with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

A Stolen Purse Leads to Crime Ring and Tips for Security Online and Off

assembly line crime network infographic by lorelle vanfossenOn , I just published Security and Protection: Understand the Social in a Crime Network and How to Protect Yourself, an article that shares the story of how my purse was stolen recently, and the fascinating story of how the thief was caught, my role in the catching, and what I learned about the assembly line and network build around this crime ring in our community.

I also offer some recommendations on how to protect yourself online and off at the bottom of the article.

There continue to be so many things that fascinate me about this event. I don’t feel victimized. It’s just something that happened, a nuisance really, especially as my wallet wasn’t stolen, but my checkbook and many valuables were, including my phone. I’m still trying to get all the phone numbers back into my new phone.

Two things were most important to me in telling the story of my car being broken into. First, I wanted to share the details of how the victims helped the police to break the crime ring and how the crime ring worked. Second, I really wanted to help people understand how much they are at risk in today’s world.

My research uncovered a report on cybercrime in Australia that showed how it takes only 7 pieces of personal information to create a profile complete enough to literally steal your identity – to become “you” in every legal way in order to shop online, gain access to your bank account, and who knows what other evil they could come up with.

The only private information, thankfully, that was in my purse and car were my business cards (featuring phone numbers, websites, Twitter, and email addresses), my checkbook (bank account number, address, phone number, and driver’s license numbers), and my phone (phone numbers and names). My phone wasn’t a new one, just an old fashioned cell phone, so I didn’t lose other data found on most modern phones.

When I stop to think about it, that’s a LOT of personal information. Through my websites and Twitter addresses, they could learn more about me, my activities, my location, and find connections to other data about me. It would help them find my Facebook pages and other social media accounts easily.

I’ve been paranoid my whole life having grown up with the Internet and web from the first days, so there is little really personal or private out there about me. I’ve not signed up for massive email lists or newsletters. I refuse to provide even my zip code when they ask at stores, yet I see people so willing to give even that information up without a thought. They are collecting marketing demographics information, which is fine but there are smarter ways to do that.

With Facebook consuming our private information and giving away rights to everything we say and do to businesses around the world, I’m very careful about what I click or share on Facebook that might risk my private life online or off. You do realize that they track every business you mention and “like” and that businesses consider it and can use it as an endorsement, whether or not you intended it to be that? A lot of people are furious to find out that something they tweeted or put on Facebook is now being used by a hamburger chain or gum company, and feel helpless when they are told that there isn’t anything they can do about it as they agreed to the terms of service. Bye-bye the right to own your own words.

I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks along the way which I share in the article on how to protect yourself. It begins by being aware of all the ways you freely hand out information about yourself and your private data.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy the story as well as the information.

UPDATE: The guy and a few others in the crime ring were found guilty and are now serving time. However, the police say that because of this innovative assembly line crime network’s setup, they only got the tip of the iceberg and weren’t able to get very far, just breaking it up in our community. For now. Also, I just found How To Buy A Stolen Credit Card : Planet Money : NPR which gives a fascinating insight into how they are buying stolen credit cards right off the web.

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