How Identity Theft Happens and How to Protect Yourself

ABC's Elisabeth Leamy gives tips on how to avoid identity theft.

ByABC News
May 1, 2008, 3:27 PM

May 1, 2008— -- The first step to preventing identity theft is to understand how it happens. Here are some of the most common vulnerabilities and strategies for fighting back:

Hacked Shopping Sites

Shopping online has become so routine for many of us that it's easy to forget that some Web sites haven't taken the steps they should to protect us. Sophisticated identity thieves -- often in foreign countries -- spend all day just trying to figure out how to hack into those sites and grab their treasure troves of credit card numbers and other identifying information. What to do?

Phishing Attacks

When I infiltrated the Internet underworld where identity thieves buy and sell people's information, it was most gut-wrenching to see "full profiles" where the crooks even had the person's Social Security number, mother's maiden name and ATM PIN. Usually, this kind of detail is provided to the crooks by the victims themselves, when they respond to phishing e-mails. A phishing attack is an illegitimate e-mail made to look as if it's from a bank or government agency. They're very convincing. The crooks claim they need to verify your account information "for your own protection." They then ask for every possible financial detail.


As we show you in Part 2 of our special report "Stealing You" on "World News With Charles Gibson," clever con artists have learned to attach false fronts to ATM machines and capture people's PIN numbers that way.