Transcript for Secrets of an Identity Thief
Now, we turn to a common crime that's hard to catch. Identity theft. Americans lose millimetalmost $25 billion every year. But tonight, a convicted identity thief shows us what to watch out for. Here's ABC's Neal Karlinsky. Out of state plate. We are probably going to hit that car. Easy to get into it. Reporter: You're in the backseat of a car for a guided tour. Work vans are easy to steal. Reporter: A convicted identity thief. Hide full-on credit cards to bill companies. Reporter: She's spilling her devious and devastating secrets. That chevy, because look at it. It's probably got a ton of stuff in it. You had a pile of purses? I have wallet. Reporter: Alice, not her real name, has agreed to drive around with Doug. I don't know how people sleep at night. Reporter: A long-time fraud investigator now with the aarp. Any kind of fraud scam, you can possibly imagine. Reporter: After years chasing identity thieves and con artists, he decided to do something, it seemed no one else had tried. Asking the convicted bad guys themselves to show him how they do it. To his surprise, many love to talk. Don't leave your pin number in your wallet. She knew all the places to go. How long they were going to be gone. The easiest car to break into. They stole $900,000 in the last three-month run that she was doing. She had a little group of people. One guy that could make I.D.S, another guy that knew how to swipe all the laptops and put them up on the cloud. It was quite a little posse. Reporter: And it is a maddening problem. Affecting more than 16 million Americans every year. To the tune of $24.7 billion. That's billion with a "B," in losses. Even worse, we're all at risk, even if you think you're doing everything right. Just look at the headlines. Every week seems to bring news of another company getting hit. Target, Home Depot, Saks fifth avenue. The list just keeps going. It's not just high tech hackers going after big companies. Thieves can set up fake wifi hot spots for you to logon to. Or there are skimmers who just swipe your card on a card reader like this guy, caught at a fast food drive through. Identity theft is the biggest property crime in the united States. And it is high tech low tech no tech. Reporter: Identity theft has become such a part of every day life, Hollywood built a movie around it. There's a criminal who stole your identity. Oh. With Melissa Mccarthy playing the title role in "Eidentity thief" and running up a scorching tab in someone else's name. Not sure where to start. Reporter: It's a lot less funny in real life. The day the movie came out, Amy discovered she was a victim. I will never forget that feeling, you're looking at your credit report, I'm scrolling down, my name's not that name. I don't live at that address. I don't work at those employers. I don't have accounts at these companies. Reporter: The battle she's waged to reclaim her name, her good credit, everything now covers her dining room table. Utility companies were very popular. We have stores where goods were purchased online. Really there's no threshold for what a criminal with your social security number will do. Reporter: When someone's identity is stolen what does the thief want to do with it? What they're trying to do is use your good credit worthiness for themselves. Reporter: Most of the time, what they're doing is taking over your existing accounts and using them to buy stuff for themselves. And then they either fence it or they sell it or whatever. Reporter: In the case of our thief, Alice, some of her favorite targets, simple stuff. Often right out in the open, just sitting on a car seat. Backpacks, that's like, ah, come break my car window. What does a backpack have it? Usually a laptop. It's full of goodies. Full of goodies. Always is. Reporter: Even easier and less risky, a thieves shopping aisle, available in every town. Mailboxes. It's compulsive now. I will take mail out of the Ba mailbox. I don't look like I'm a criminal. Reporter: She's really an astute observer of human Ben have your. Yes, yes. I think that's what conartists have in common. The capacity to put yourself in the mind of the other person, long enough -- it's like casing the joint. They're casing your brain in a sense. So, they all have that. What they don't have is the sympathetic aspect of empathy to not steal from you. Reporter: With so many thieves just like Alice walking among us, what's an upstanding person to do? For starters, get a lock on your mailbox. Shred important documents before tossing them. And sign up for online access to all your accounts so you can keep a close eye on them. You have to encrypt and protect the data on your computers. Your laptop, your smartphone, everything you have. It is so easy to steal an identity and it so difficult to fix it. Reporter: Amy says she doesn't know how she became a target for an identity thief but she filed a police report and the cops actually caught a suspect who lived nearby and who later pleaded guilty. But fixing all the damage is still a work in progress. I have yet to pull my credit reports and not see some fraudulent activity on them. You have to prove to them you are who you say you are, to a greater extent than the criminal ever had to do to be given goods and services. Reporter: There's an old saying. Know thy enemy. Doug thought he knew his until he spent some time driving around with one. You learned new tips driving around with her. Absolutely. Oh, there's no question about it. You I've changed my own behavior. Reporter: I'm Neal Karlinsky for "Nightline" in Seattle.
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