Online Identity Theft: How Thieves Do It

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 8.3 million people were victims of identity theft in 2007. While the numbers are not in yet for online identity theft in 2008, the FTC did receive 313,982 complaints in 2008 regarding identity theft. Visit the FTC for more information at the Federal Trade Commission website. There are several online tricks that thieves use to steal identities from creditworthy individuals.

Internet Chat Rooms

Internet chat rooms are used by thieves to spread Trojan horses, a type of virus, on innocent people who are engaging in online conversations. These viruses are able to read keystrokes that someone makes in their day to day use of the computer. The virus then figures out the log-in ids and passwords for different sites. The thief now has access to personal information.

Computer Hacker

Another form of online theft involves tapping into a shopping website and stealing personal information from the customers. All shopping websites store consumer information online. When an item is purchased online, the individual usually provides a name, address, and credit card information to pay for the purchase. The computer hacker can access this credit card information by infiltrating business clientele information.


This is one of the most popular forms of online identity theft. An email is sent by a thief to an individual asking for personal information. The email looks like it comes from a legitimate company and requests the recipient visit a web site where personal information, such as a social security number, credit card number, and personal password is requested. While the website looks genuine, it is actually a sham site set up entirely to steal your identity.

Database Theft

There are a myriad of databases that are available online. These databases might be credit related or contain personal information. For example, the credit reporting agencies have personal information on everyone whom has ever attempted to obtain credit. This information includes address, phone number, type of employment, social security number, credit card and loan account numbers, and total outstanding debt. Databases can be purchased or shared between companies or they can be stolen by identity thieves.
Online identity theft is rampant and is not likely to stop any time soon. Viruses, hacking and fraud are all means by which thieves will attempt to steal identities. It is up to you to stay smart and vigilant to prevent identity theft.