Every year scam artists reportedly create some 700,000 false identities--enough to fill a virtual San Francisco. That estimate is conservative, insists Norman A. Willox, Jr., of the National Fraud Center, a consulting firm. It's based on the number of fake credit cards, bank accounts, driver's licenses and other supposed proofs of identity that are being uncovered. Data from the U.S. General Accounting Office suggest that identity fraud has been increasing by roughly 50 percent a year since 1999. And despite corporate and government moves toward universal IDs, the quest for absolute proof that you are who you say you are appears quixotic.
Creating a false identity is easy, especially if you start with a real one. A few visits to Web-based public directories (or local libraries and records offices) can yield addresses and phone numbers past and present, date of birth, employers, mother's maiden name and similar vital personal data. Add an illegitimately obtained Social Security or credit-card number, and an impostor has almost as solid a case for claiming to be someone as the real person does. Criminal information brokers even package up complete identities for sale, according to Willox.
This article was originally published with the title Who's Who.