When a former big-time identity thief dishes out advice on how to protect yourself from the very crimes he used to perpetrate, we listen. Especially when it is related to the Equifax data breach. In this blog post, I will share some of the most interesting snippets from a recent interview with a notorious identity thief — he was even on the U.S. Most Wanted list for a time — and a few of the things he recommends ways to protect yourself from identity theft. ConsumerMan Herb Weisbaum recently interviewed 47-year-old Alabama resident Brett Shannon Johnson about how identity theft works for an NBC story.
“Johnson made millions developing online fraud techniques and creating two major online crime syndicates, before getting busted (several times) and spending more than six years behind bars,” Weisbaum writes on his post about the interview.
Johnson, who even worked undercover for the Secret Service while he was still running a fraudulent tax refund scam, says he’s reformed and now owns a security consulting company.
When Johnson first started stealing people’s identities, he started with sex offenders. He had access to the Indiana State Sex Offenders Registry, which contained the offender’s Social Security number, mother’s maiden name and “all the info you needed to take over someone’s identity,” Johnson said. He’d use the info to set up fraudulent bank accounts, which he would then use to cash out eBay fraud — essentially he’d set up items for sale on eBay that didn’t exist and then have the money deposited into the bank account, which he then drained. From there, he moved over to tax fraud.
“I’m the idiot who set up that type of fraud,” Johnson says matter of factly during the interview. Johnson would spend 12-14 hours a day on the computer, committing crimes. Eventually, Johnson would spend a total of six years behind bars.
So how easy is it for someone to commit identity theft, Weisbaum asks him during the interview.
Pretty darn easy, as it turns out.
“Cybercrime is not rocket science anymore,” he says. “These days, someone who has no experience at all can take classes… they actually teach classes on how to commit these crimes. He can buy tutorials … All the tools they use are basically off-the-shelf products. It’s extremely easy.”
Does the Equifax data breach make it easier for identity thieves, Weisbaum asks during the interview, which you can listen to in its entirety here.
“The information has been out there, what the breach did is they made sure all the information is consolidated, and if you’re a criminal, you’re guaranteed the information is correct; that is priceless. Before a criminal would buy information and he was never sure if all the information was correct. Realize that all security systems are set up on what’s called KBA — knowledge-based authentication. Equifax, that data, allows whatever criminal who has that data in his possession to take over any account that he wants to take over — he can file tax returns, he can take over Social Security accounts, he can file student loans, take over credit accounts, set up bank accounts. Any specific thing he wants to do, he’s now able to.”
So what does the former identity thief recommend to protect yourself from identity theft?
- Freezing the credit of everyone in your household, including and especially children. For more about how to freeze your credit, visit our blog post. Just remember, a freeze will only stop new account fraud and won’t stop existing account fraud or tax return fraud (for more information about tax return fraud, check out our recent series on the topic, including 4 Signs to Watch For That Could Indicate You’re a Tax Identity Theft Victim and The No. 1 Thing You Can Do To Prevent Tax Identity Theft.)
- Monitor all accounts regularly — email, financial and social media.
For more tips on how to stay safe from LibertyID’s Lead Identity Restoration expert Suzanne Ford, visit our blog post titled 6 Recs on How To Prevent Becoming an Identity Theft Victim.
LibertyID is the AAA of identity theft protection, offering the most effective identity theft restoration and protection service. Sign up for an annual subscription and rest easy knowing that if your identity is stolen, we will fix it. There’s no limit to the time or money we will spend restoring your identity to pre-event status. A certified restoration specialist will handle all of the legwork and keep you informed with regular status updates. But just like with AAA, you have to be covered before there’s an incident.