Identity Theft Methods

The ways perpetrators steal identities – Part II in the Identity Theft series

Identity Theft Methods

How Identities are stolen

Identity theft – Part II – Detection

This is the second post in our three post series about Identity Theft. The first post was about what Identity theft really is and what it really costs the victims in damages. This post is about the various ways perpetrators use to steal identities and how you can detect it early.

Identity theft – online and offline

Remember the infographic from Mashable? According to their data, there are many ways to steal one’s identity, but some are more common than others. They listed both online ways (Hacking your computer, phishing emails etc.) and offline ways (“shoulder surfing”, dumpster diving and more).

It is though, without a doubt, easier to steal your identity online and / or using electronic means. Luring people into scams by email, installing electronic readers on ATM machines and access doors to banks or fake credit card readers in stores is easier, faster and less risky than diving into your dumpster, breaking into your home or an office (like what happened to the TCC students) or stealing your redundant equipment (think twice before throwing away an old Disk On Key…).

Let’s review some of those ways in which your identity can be stolen.

“Shoulder surfing”

Shoulder surfing refers to a situation in which someone stands very close to you and looks over your shoulder while you punch in your PIN in an ATM machine or type your password to your online bank account. This can happen to you in various places: at the ATM, when you’re in an internet cafe, at the school cafeteria, at the mall or even in the office (remember – 43% of the victims turn out to know their identity thief!)

Redundant equipment

We all had a Hard drive or a flash memory card or a disk on key fail at least once. Not always we can fix them, and many times they are discarded without formatting or destroying them, because we believe that no information can be salvaged from them. But that is not true. Someone who gains access to such equipment might be able (either by hard work or by paying someone else) to restore part or all of the information. Think about it… if for the price of several days work or a couple of hundreds of dollars an identity thief can gain information worth thousands of dollars and more so why wouldn’t they go to this length?

Dumpster Diving

Yes it sounds nasty and repulsive but just like with the redundant equipment, with some hard work and with no fear of getting dirty, identity thieves can gain a lot of information about you. How many people own a shredder in their house? And even if they do, how many people go to trouble of shredding each and every piece of paper they throw away? How many times have you thrown away old receipts or bills that had your details on them just because you didn’t think anyone would be interested in your enough to fish them out of your garbage?

Hacking computers, networks and databases

This is the most common way identities get stolen. Hackers can hack into your personal computer and plant a spyware in it (for example something that shares your screen with them so they know what you do, or a keylogger that records your keystrokes as you type thus catching your log in details to various sites and services). With today’s sophisticated hackers and Malware producers it is not hard to bypass any run of the mill defense system you may have, be it antivirus, firewall or a combination of both.

Of course hackers don’t always target specific people. More often groups of hackers will join forces to hack whole networks or databases, preferably of credit card companies, banks etc. and gain access to the personal data of as many people as possible at once. Hackers also like gaming sites (especially games where you have to pay to have an account such as World of Warcraft) and social networks.


It seems that no matter what you do identity thieves stubborn enough will get your details. But don’t despair! We believe knowledge is power (this is also the credo behind the creation of Magen) and so we’ve listed the above methods in this article to give you some insight about how identity thieves work and what to be on the look for. In our next post in the series we will give you tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from identity theft.