The Cloners: Beyond ID Theft, Criminals Become You


Robert Siciliano, Internet security analyst and publisher of The Safety Minute, uncovered a disturbing new trend in criminal ID theft today that goes a few gigabytes beyond the typical ID theft we all know well– for some of us, far too well.

In a blog post, Siciliano writes about Identity Cloning, an emerging practice among those with criminal minds whereby someone lives and works for years using the identity of his or her unsuspecting victim to avoid paying child support, forgo the sex offender registry or disappear before international prosecution.

Aside from proving how easy it is to clone someone (at least on paper), Siciliano makes an interesting point about how American society is attempting to battle an onslaught of ID theft with symbolic rocks and stones in an age where wireless information, and the technology to obtain it, is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Here’s an excerpt:

Identity cloning generally encompasses all types of identity theft. In most cases, the thief is intentionally living and functioning as the victim. The thief’s motivation may be to hide from the law, evade child support, or skirt immigration.

A man led a quiet life, but he wasn’t who he claimed to be. He was an identity thief. The ruse was so elaborate that his own girlfriend said she was unaware of it.

His victim lived hundreds of miles away and for over a decade, he was unaware that his identity had been stolen. When the victim applied for a passport for the first time, he learned that someone else already had a passport under his name, and had since 1996.

Prosecutors aren’t even sure of the perpetrator’s real name. The man claims he’s a German national who entered the country under his real name in 1983 via Mexico. He even got a birth certificate and a driver’s license.

In cases of identity theft, generally, the goal is to commit financial fraud. Kind of like a smash and grab. The thief comes in, wreaks havoc, makes a mess, destroys your credit, and then moves on to another victim. But with identity cloning, the person may actually pay the bills and live a decent life.

In some cases, though, that person may also be a sex offender or have other recurring legal troubles. Either way, at some point, there is inevitably a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Some people spend hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and face years of aggravation.

Our antiquated systems of identification rely on paper and plastic documents, often without photographs, coupled with ubiquitous numeric identifiers. Since the beginning and especially today, all forms of documentation are easily counterfeited. This means anyone can simply copy, scan, manipulate, and print a document, obtain your digits, and become you.

This means that your identity is anything but safe and secure. It is entirely vulnerable to attack, and may already be compromised.

Siciliano says our best option is to lock it down in a way that makes it difficult for an identity thief to use it undetected, and in some cases makes your identity useless to a thief. He suggests subscribing to an ID theft monitoring service that can alert you in real-time whenever your credit report is accessed, which is useful.

But in a paper-based society where businesses still file, print and file again, the act of hiring a local shredding company to destroy your sensitive documents at your home and office is still relevant today and probably your best bet for taking ownership of your identity.

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