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How Do Identity Thieves Work?

Posted on May 10, 2011
Have you ever wondered why someone would want to phish your Facebook password? It becomes a serious matter if you happen to use the same password for online banking or your personal email account.
Tags: phishing, identity theft, facebook, online banking, keylogging

Identity thieves use various methods to steal your personal information for their own financial gain. A crafty enough criminal could hack someone’s Facebook account and potentially get enough information to get into that person’s email, PayPal, or online banking account. All it takes is one breached account and your entire online identity could be compromised in a matter of seconds.

The simplest way that identity thieves steal your information is to trick you into giving it to them. They start by sending out mass emails, just like spam, that looks like an official email from a site like Facebook or PayPal. The email they send will mention something that usually requires your immediate attention, and a link will be included for you to login to the site. If you click the link, you will be brought to a website that looks just like the real site, but it is not. If you submit your login name and password, credit card number, or any other information, you’ve just been phished.

Phishing is when identity thieves dupe users into giving up their information by tricking them with fake emails and websites. Check the spam folder of your own email and you’re likely to find a phishing attempt of some kind. You may even have one that mentions a bank you don’t use or a website you’ve never logged into. Because phishing is so easy for these criminals, most security software like BitDefender and Vipre Antivirus will include email scanning functions that help to block these types of messages.

Another method that identity thieves employ is to use a piece of software called a keylogger. This is a program that keeps track of everything you type into your computer by capturing and logging every key that is pressed on the keyboard. With this information, hackers can see your login names, passwords, credit card numbers, and much more. Keyloggers are usually piggybacked with some other malicious software or come in via another type virus that makes copies of itself. One infection can easily lead to another once your system has been compromised. This is why you should never do any credit card transactions online if you suspect your computer may be infected with a virus.

Suppose that you are tricked into giving out your Facebook account password. This often results in your friends getting spammed with links or embarrassing things being posted from your account. It may seem like more of an annoyance than a big deal, but what if the email address and password you use for Facebook is the same thing you use for PayPal? What if it’s the same login information you use for online banking? Once an identify thief has your login information, they are free to try it wherever they like. In fact, the process can be automated using simple scripts that could check your login name and password with every single online banking institution in the world and it could be done within seconds.

In addition to having strong security software with anti-phishing options, it is important that you not use the same password for every website that you log into. The reason for this is that if your password were to be compromised on one site, then it would be compromised on all of them. You should keep a spare free email account like with Yahoo or Google Mail to use for sites like Facebook or message board forums, and then use another more personal account for money-related matters like PayPal and online banking. It may take a little more work on your part to keep up with different passwords and login names, but it will help to protect you from identity thieves in case any of your information is ever stolen online.

It's also a good idea to evaluate the identity protection features of security software before you buy. Many products, such as Norton Internet Security, include extra tools that recognize and block phishing websites in addition to helping you securely manage all of your important passwords. Kaspersky Anti-Virus even features a virtual keyboard that makes it almost impossible for keyloggers to steal and use your passwords. It's well worth spending a couple extra dollars now to prevent the headaches and financial loss that one accidental click could cause you later.

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