Publicly available lists of high net worth mortgage holders.
Databases of mortgages with signatures available online.
Phone services that spoof calls so they appear to be from different numbers.
Fee-based background check services that provide employment and address history, social security numbers and relative’s names.
Genealogy websites that provide mother’s maiden names.
Security questions with multiple choice answers.
Wired financial transfers with no more verification than a voice on a phone or a faxed signature.
Wireless cellphone cards purchased for cash.
Call forwarding services.
All of these served as the critical weaknesses in our American banking system and allowed a cybercriminal to live a life of 5-star hotel suites, diamond and gold jewelry, $650 bottles of Cristal champagne and more. His name is Tobechi Onwuhara and he is still on the run, after an identity theft spree estimated to total $80-$100 million in just 3 years.
If you want to protect yourself from having your funds stolen in this way, there are a few steps you could take. Unfortunately, if someone targeted you, they probably wouldn’t be enough. Can you think of more tips to stop this type of identity theft? Please add your own suggestions in the comments below.
Do you have a home equity line of credit? Check how someone could extend the balance and make sure you require several steps of verification. Could someone wire funds with just a phone call or a faxed signature? If you have a personal relationship with the mortgage holder, such as your financial advisor at a brokerage firm, they might flag a transfer that appears dramatically out of the ordinary, such as wiring a large amount off-shore. Perhaps, if you aren't currently using the line of credit, you might close it down.
Assume your mother’s maiden name is available to anyone. I’m an avid user of genealogy websites and a fan of the current television programs that demonstrate how easy these sites are to use. So if you are asked to use your mother’s maiden name on a website or form as a security code, consider using a fake name. As long as you can remember what you used, it’s as good as the real thing and likely less easy for someone else to guess.
Put a credit freeze on yourself. You can do this, sometimes for a small fee, but possibly free if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft. For more details on a “credit freeze”, visit the FTC website. This will prevent anyone from opening new credit in your name without you ‘unfreezing’ your credit. It won’t prevent someone from extending an existing line of credit or opening new accounts that don’t require a credit check, so it's not a perfect solution to the problem of identity theft.