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I have had my identity compromised. It sucks. And while I shudder to think about what the thief did with the stolen information, it has forced me to develop good online security practices.
That said, I am constantly amazed by the creativity of scammers. So, in today’s piece, I wanted to look at some of the most famous identity theft cases in recent years.
Honestly, this stuff blew my mind and I think it will blow yours too.
Let’s dive in.
Famous Identity Thefts Cases
Nicole McCabe: Framed for Assassination After Passport Compromised
Imagine being framed for the assassination of a Hamas leader.
That’s exactly what happened to Nicole McCabe. Her identity was supposedly stolen in 2010 by the Israeli Intelligence Agency, Mossad1, and used in the assassination2 of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Originally from Australia, she had lived in Israel for a couple of years and was six months pregnant at the time. While driving in her car, she heard on the radio about the assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, the chief of logistics and weapons for the Hamas organization. She was shocked to hear her name, listed as one of the suspects.
The assassination squad had stolen her identity to perpetrate the crime, along with the identity of two other Australians and various people from the UK, Ireland, France, and Germany. Luckily, the identity theft was quickly reported and confirmed by authorities, and the situation was solved relatively soon.
Phillip Cummings: Stole and Sold 33,000 Credit Reports for $50-$100 Million
One of the most famous identity theft cases of recent years was that of Phillip Cummings3. The 35-year-old, Phillip Cummings worked at a small software company in Long Island. He worked there briefly for a year, from 1999 to 2000, but before leaving the company, he stole the credit reports of about 33,000 people across the US.
The software company, Teledata Communications, makes “credit prompter boxes,” easy-to-use credit check terminals for more than 25,000 American companies. These terminals make it easy for businesses to perform routine credit checks.
Before leaving, Cummings and an accomplice from the company left with a spreadsheet of usernames and passwords that allowed them to access credit reports at the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The thieves sold the information to criminals who made between $50 and $100 million.
Kenneth Gibson: Stole Customer Info & Created 8000 Fake Accounts to Steal $3.5 Million
From 2012 and 2017, Kenneth Gibson4 worked for a software company as an IT professional. There, he could access thousands of customers’ and employees’ personal information. He stole data methodically during the five years that he worked at the company.
Gibson set up a computer program that would read people’s information from the list and automatically open fake accounts. He used those accounts to methodically transfer minute amounts of money. This system ran 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, and over time he opened more than 8,000 fraudulent PayPal accounts. He went unnoticed because he moved money in small transfers.
Eventually, he was caught because he asked PayPal to send him a check. Usually, he would retrieve cash from an ATM, but he got careless. The name on one of the checks PayPal sent him matched a victim’s name.
He was sentenced to 4 years in prison and supervised leave for 3 more years and community service. He had to pay $1 million in compensation and sell assets to restore the $3.5 million that was stolen.
Nakeisha Hall: Stole $400,000 From Americans While Working for the IRS
A shocking identity theft case from recent years involved an IRS worker5. Nakeisha Hall worked for the IRS6 in the Taxpayer Advocate Services branch. In theory, she was helping people who had been victims of tax fraud, but in reality, she was stealing personal information during her work.
From 2008 to 2011, she accessed IRS databases and stole people’s names, birth dates, and Social Security Numbers. She used the information to submit fraudulent tax returns and request refunds on debit cards. She stole about $400,000 and was sentenced to 9 years in federal prison.
Turhan Armstrong: Made $3.5 Million by Stealing Children’s Personal Information
In 2017, Turhan Armstrong was convicted for managing a $3.3 million scam7 using stolen identities, mostly from children. He was sentenced to prison for 21 years for a variety of crimes, including aggravated identity theft, financial institution fraud, and credit card fraud.
Armstrong stole personal information and Social Security Numbers to open credit cards and bank accounts, take loans, and buy cars and homes. He often stole the SSN of immigrant children who had left the U.S. because neither the children nor the parents would check the credit reports.
Identity theft rings like this one that use a stolen SSN are one of the most prominent financial crimes in the U.S. Children are given an SSN at birth and usually don’t have a credit history until they try to apply for a student loan or enroll in college, which makes them an easy target for criminals.
David Matthew Read: Impersonated Actress Demi Moore and Spent Over $169,000
In 2018, 35-year old David Matthew Read8 impersonated actress Demi Moore and reported her no-limit American Express card was stolen. He obtained her SSN and other personal information online. Then, he intercepted the new card at a FedEx by pretending to be Mooore’s personal assistant and went on a shopping spree that lasted 25 days.
With the card, Read spent over $169,000 online and in luxury New York stores. The FBI identified him with surveillance cameras that caught him shopping at stores with the card.
Credit Card fraud is a growing problem in the U.S., affecting both consumers and businesses. Fraudulent credit card charges have a reduced liability, but you have to report the crime as soon as possible.
Unauthorized credit card charges reported within two business days have a maximum liability of $50 in most states. Credit card fraud reported under 60 calendar days has a liability of $500. If you miss these deadlines, there might be no limits. If you are an identity theft victim, you can read about your rights on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft Scams
The identity theft cases above are crazy. They also prove that identity theft can happen to anyone, from children to celebrities.
I know that I can never completely eliminate the risk of id theft, but I do my best to steer clear. My strategy involves two steps:
- Practice good hygiene
- Continually monitor
Here’s my 7-step process for practicing good online hygiene
- Use a password manager and make sure I have unique passwords for all my accounts
- Use 2-factor authentication on my email and financial accounts
- Monitor my credit on a monthly basis – I also freeze my credit with the bureaus
- Use a good VPN like NordVPN or ProtonVPN
- Use a good antivirus software like MalwareBytes
- Use a service like haveibeenpwned.com to search the web for data breaches I have been affected by
- Regularly scan my credit reports and public records to see if any unauthorized accounts have been opened in my name
In addition to this, I also use a good identity theft protection service like Aura, which constantly monitors my credit, public records as well as the dark web and notifies me immediately of any breaches I have been affected by.
I find Aura’s constant monitoring and theft insurance, together with my online hygiene checklist, help me sleep well at night.
You can read my Aura review here or check out their free 2 week trial below.
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