Did you know that a trove of personal information about you can typically be purchased on the internet (actually, the “Dark Web”) for about $20 to $130? That trove is known, in dark web parlance, as a “fullz” and comprises a complete package of everything needed to commit identity theft: your name, address and social security number of course, but also your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number and more. When combined with widely-hacked credit card number identification, logins and passwords you’ve used and even your individual credit reports, the data set altogether provides a complete picture of you – and all the ammunition needed to steal your identity, or at the very least, wreak havoc on your life and time spent fixing the leaks.
Now, here’s the good news: experts tell us that in 2017, only 6.6% of the adult population of the U.S. were victimized by identity fraud – meaning over 93% were not victimized. But then here’s the bad news: that was just one year. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves, and best of all, professional scammers who will reveal their secrets – either because they have flipped sides and now work for the good guys, or because they are trying to ‘cooperate’ their way to lighter sentences – tell us that “even though personal information is everywhere, if you do just one or two things to create roadblocks for the scammers, people [like them] will probably move on.” Why? “Because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”
The fact is, about 5-10% of the internet is the surface internet – the one most of us see and use every day for stuff like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, our various news sites, Medicare, Fox News or MSN or WebMD.
The middle 90-95% consists of a layer of pages that use passwords and are not typically found by search engines, like PayPal, NetFlix, Bank of America, Dropbox, online banking, subscription websites, government records, emails and social media content.
The bottom .01% is the dark web, with sites like Silk Road, AlphaBay Market and, at least until it was shut down, Shadowcrew. These are the places where criminals and scammers lurk, and where the buying and selling of so much personal information occurs. This is where your information can be bought for the $20-$130 mentioned earlier – the fee mostly depends on your age and creditworthiness.
We live in a post-prevention world when it comes to our identities and online personae. Assume much of your personal information is already on the net. Cybersecurity experts conclude that there are three key things you can do “to make sure that stolen data can’t be used to defraud you,” according Doug Shadel of AARP, who has written on fraud for 20 years. Those include:
- Freeze your credit
- Closely monitor all accounts
- Use a password manager
Do at least these things, as our cybercriminal noted earlier said: “…because there are plenty of other marks out there who do nothing.”