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How thieves can piece together PII
How do thieves get access to PII?
Large-scale breaches may compromise the most sensitive PII records. Breaches involving millions of users have become an almost weekly routine. The first six months of 2019 alone has seen 3,800 reported breaches involving 4.1 billion records.
Hackers then attempt to sell these records on the dark web to criminal elements such as organized crime and identity thieves. Sometimes, the PII involved in a breach may be enough to hijack an account outright. This is true when login credentials are stolen, for example.
Other times, an identity thief may need to acquire more information than what they obtained from a breach. Some of these are:
- Dumpster diving can reveal a broad range of PII data, from addresses and phone numbers to ages and interests to account numbers and statements.
- Stealing mail can provide both sensitive and non-sensitive personal data by taking unopened mail straight from the mailbox.
- Purse or wallet snatching involves some of the most sensitive data people keep with themselves at all times. Briefcases and smartphones are other potential targets which a clever thief might get their hands on.
- Lottery and prize winning notifications are, unfortunately, often no more than scams designed to capture data for hackers and identity thieves.
- Skimming debit or credit card numbers is not as prevalent as it once was, with most such cards upgrading to built-in EMV chips, but these techniques are still used by some to capture PINs and other data.
- Phishing lures the victim into providing specific PII data through deceptive emails or texts. These messages often lead to fake websites where the targets are asked to submit passwords and other data.
- Pretexting is similar to phishing, where data thieves offer a reason — or pretext — for inquiring about personal information. They could pose as a survey, ask prequalification questions for an award or service, or pretend to be customer service following up from a current business relationship.
- Obtaining credit reports by posing as employers or rental agents can provide identity thieves with a wealth of personal data.
- Social media often provides plenty of linkable PII data, easily searched for and accessed by anyone who takes the time to look.
- Unsecured internet activity provides a means for hackers to scoop up a variety of personal data from unprotected electronic devices