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Op-Ed: Synthetic ID theft is fastest growing cybercrime, seniors at risk

By Elizabeth Brown     Jun 24, 2014 in Technology
Consumers, especially seniors, should brace themselves for synthetic identity theft which is the fastest growing form of ID theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It's estimated to comprise of 80 to 85 percent of all identity fraud.
Synthetic identity theft "is when thieves combine real and fake information to create a brand new and different identity," according to the FTC. Cybercriminals create a ghost (fictitious) account but will use a real social security number (SSN), and combine it with a different name, address and phone number.
The combination of real and fake information makes it extremely difficult for security experts, national data centers, and credit agencies to piece together the criminal puzzle. This "synthetic" combination is used to open new bank accounts, obtain new credit cards, cell phones and other goods and services.
These new accounts primarily depend on a real (and stolen) social security number. It can be easy to steal a person's SSN, say a senior citizen's, because Medicare cards (and other health-related tags) as well as government documents (such as tax forms) typically have a person's social security number.
Synthetic ID theft is much harder to prevent and detect because institutions think they are dealing with a new (ghost) individual -- who's using a real social security number. It's also hard to find the perpetrator because of their fake, hybrid identity.
Seniors at Risk
Seniors and older Americans are more at risk of ID theft, according to Equifax. In 2013, nearly 45 percent of all consumer identity theft complaints came from Americans over the age of 50.
Here's the breakdown of complaints by age, according to FTC.
• 19 and under: 2%
• 20 to 29 years old: 15%
• 30 to 39: 17%
• 40 to 49: 19%
• 50 to 59: 20%
• 60 to 69: 16%
• 70 and older: 11%
Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting Americans over age 50 because they are more vulnerable and less technologically savvy. Older adults rely on caregivers who have access to their personal information such as SSN.
Additionally, older adults are more financially established, which make them attractive targets for criminals. One popular way of scamming seniors is to steal their Medicare card or medical forms, which can contain their social security number.
Measures Against ID Theft
The security industry is growing in response to the threat of cybercrime. IT jobs will grow 22 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Information security analyst jobs will grow 37 percent until 2022, according to BLS.
A big problem is that so many institutions know so much about our personal information. Your cable provider knows your address, credit card information, credit history, age, and other sensitive data. The data breach at retailer Target, which affected millions of consumers, shows what happens when hackers overcome an IT firewall. It also shows the immense promise of overcoming encryption as hackers can literally hold millions of consumers hostage by making sensitive information public over the Internet.
When it comes to telephone verification, Oregon-based TRUSTID has developed software that helps phone operators authenticate the identity of the person on the line (i.e., make sure the caller is not an ID thief). The company reduces the time taken for identity interrogation (which lessens customer frustration) for customers of banks and financial institutions. TRUSTID's identity interrogation method authenticates the caller's ID prior to a phone call with a customer service rep.
Verification technologies are growing in importance in the fight against ID theft and cybercrime. Telephone scams targeting adults 50 and older are becoming more common, according to the National Council on Aging. That's because senior citizens, more than any other age group, are inclined to shop by telephone.
Consumers should be skeptical of requests for personal information, especially when they are contacted by phone. Legitimate businesses and organizations typically don't contact people by phone and request sensitive information.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Identity theft, Cybercrime, Id theft, synthetic ID theft, Seniors