credit

The black market for your identity

Data breaches. You have heard all about them: Target, Anthem Health, Home Depot, millions of data points stolen.

But what happens to your personal information? Take your Social Security number, for example. It's yours and to you it's priceless, but would you believe that to a data thief it's only worth about $30?

Here's how it happens. Once they get your data, hackers break it down into smaller groups, into subsets, and they sell that information quickly before you report it as stolen because then it loses its value. Email addresses, for example, they're sold wholesale to thieves who specialize in phishing scams.

So, here's a website with information for sale. I find CVV codes. There are free bank and PayPal accounts. About 800 people have looked at those, and you can see all the different ways that this information is being sliced and diced.

A price tag is put on every one of these data points. The more sensitive the information, the more expensive. So, Social Security numbers sell for around $30, health insurance numbers for $20, while credit card numbers just $4. A bank account with a lot of money in it -- that can go for as much as $300.

This is another site where you can buy someone's personal information. Here they're buying tax profiles. And, I gotta tell you, it looks no different than if you were shopping for something on Amazon.

I know, you hear about these things all the time, and you start to wonder: Are these pieces of information really that important? And, the answer is, yeah, they are.

If it gets out there on the open market, and people start to assume your identity; and open credit accounts under your name; apply for mortgages in your name; get a job in your name; it can cost you thousands of dollars and take years of your life to shut down.

What can you do to alert yourself that your data is out there? Several things. First: Check your credit report. And you can do this for free on the Web at sites like myBankrate.com and AnnualCreditReport.com. Pay particular attention to whether information exists on those reports that don't belong to you, and if you think it does, you want to freeze your credit. That's a safeguard that can help protect you.

Two: Check your Social Security statements at SSA.gov. Look for sources of income on that report that again, don't belong to you. That's a signifier of a data breach.

And finally, if you've got kids, pull your kid's credit reports, as well. They shouldn't have them. If they do, that's a signal that something is wrong.

Photo credits: © Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com, © Martin Good/Shutterstock.com, © John Panella/Shutterstock.com, © larry1235/Shutterstock.com, Turhan/Shutterstock.com

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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