Build-An-Identity: How Cybercriminals Create a Brand New Person

Do you know those stores your kids always want to go to where they get to build a stuffed animal, a custom race car, or some other unique toy? Well, cybercriminals do the same thing with creating a synthetic identity.

There are two recipes cybercriminals follow when creating their walking, talking, credit-card-opening, job-application-filing, little monster. With recipe one, they walk through the dark web picking out Scott's driver's license number, Taylor's social security number, John's address, and combine them to create Scott Taylor Johnson. Recipe number two is pretty simple - they make everything up. This method might have some real elements, like a person's SSN that isn't used a lot, such as a newborn's SSN. Either way, the result is the same. Once they have all their ingredients, they mix them, add a dash of something sinister, bake until golden brown, and they have a brand new person that never existed before today! This new person has no credit, no debt, no employment history, and they won't even have a criminal record.

So what does this new "person" do on its first day out in the world? They start building their life and their credit. Here is where synthetic identity becomes very interesting, and the fake identity starts becoming real. A brand new fake individual is treated just like any other person when applying for a credit card. Their credit is run, then depending on that person's credit history they are approved or denied. The first few times a criminal using a synthetic identity applies for a credit card they will be denied. However, that exact reason is why eventually they get approved. By running a credit check on the fake identity, credit history is being created. This is also why scammers often use a child's SSN. It's a real number with no prior credit history and it will most likely be years until that number is used by the person it was taken from.

When someone creates a synthetic identity, it's like a werewolf in the daylight. Someone you work with, or who lives in your neighborhood, or someone you're friends with could be using a synthetic identity, and you would never know. And, like a bite from a werewolf, you won't know you've been affected for some time. Some argue that there are no victims with synthetic identity because a lot of the time everything they're using is made up. But, there is always a victim when it comes to identity theft. If they're using a child's SSN, then that child gets the curse at 18. If charges are run up and never paid, the businesses and banks lose money. A criminal using a synthetic identity can apply for and obtain employment, file fake tax returns, receive medical care, or use it for other devious means.

Is there a silver bullet? How do you stop synthetic identity theft? Short answer, you can't. However, you can be vigilant against it. Keep your information as secure and as private as possible. It's also imperative that you pay attention to what comes in your mail. If you receive pieces of mail with someone else's name take note. This could be a sign that someone is trying to reach the synthetic identity, and your information is part of their fake persona. Finally, invest in Identity Theft Protection for both you and your children today. This will help you get notified when your information is found on the Dark Web, or if someone is using your social security number without your knowledge.

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Remember, 1-in-4 Americans are the victim of identity theft. It's not a matter of if you'll become a victim. It's when...

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