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How Cyberstalkers Obtain Your Personal Information

Laws Lag Behind Technology Making Prosecution Difficult

By

Updated January 08, 2009
This is seventh in a series of articles on women and cyberstalking written for About.com by cyberstalking expert Alexis A. Moore, founder of the national advocacy group Survivors in Action.

Today anyone can conduct an internet search typing in such key words as

  • license plate records
  • people locate
  • employment locate
  • bank account locate
  • employment locate
  • phone record trace
  • social security number trace
  • property records information
Searching with these words will bring up hundreds of internet-based datafurnishing companies that supply consumer records online. Some even provide these types of records for free. Experiment a little and you'll quickly discover that you don't need to hire a private investigator to obtain personal information; with a little ingenuity and the help of the internet, you can find it yourself.

Internet-based information brokerages and datafurnishing companies are surfacing all over the country. The information age has created a new revenue source for those who provide consumer records. Datafurnishing is a billion dollar industry that includes the three national credit bureaus, companies like Lexis Nexis, Accurint, Choicepoint and the thousands of others that pop up daily. All provide consumer private records with the click of a mouse.

Currently, a convicted felon in California is operating one of the nation's largest information brokering businesses. Yet the hands of local law enforcement are tied because information brokers are neither licensed nor regulated nearly as well as they should be. Simply stated, anyone at any time can hire one of these datafurnishing agents or an information broker and obtain data that the majority of us believe is private.

In California, I have been working with State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's office in San Francisco to help introduce legislation that will mandate licensing of all information brokers that sell a Californian's private records and information to a third party. Such licensing is not presently in place, enabling many of these so-called information brokers' practices to remain unnoticed by law enforcement and our nation's law makers.

Over the years I have spoken with members of the justice department, local and state law enforcement including the FBI and political figures. All have had the same response: They aren't aware of anything that protects people's records. Most of the time they shake their heads and tell me it's crazy how easy it is to get access to personal information on the internet.

A Dangerous Trick - Caller ID Spoofing

Many people erroneously believe they are safe from cyberstalking because they are rarely online. But technology has extended beyond the reach of the computer and where technology goes, cyberstalkers can follow.

Caller ID spoofing is simple to do. Google the topic and you'll instantly locate sites where you can purchase the technology yourself. By buying pre-paid time, you can then call someone else, changing the number and the name you're calling from on their call display. The person picks up the phone thinking they're talking to National Bank, and instead it's a stalker after personal information. Using these tricks, cyberstalkers can locate victims by fooling friends and relatives into revealing the victim's whereabouts. Or they can obtain critical personal information to access a victim's private records.

In one case I was involved in, a woman received two texts from what purported to be her bank, asking for personal information. She responded without thinking about it, only to find out later that someone broke into her bank account and paid all of her bills several times. Nothing that could be proven as "stolen". As far as the bank was concerned she was the one who chose to pay bills several times. But it left her completely broke until her next payday -- over two weeks away. Even worse, now an identified person had her social security number and other key pieces of information that allowed him to do it again. And there was nothing she could do to have him arrested.

Legislation banning caller ID spoofing has been created and passed in the House and referred to the Senate, but as of this writing it has gone no further. Until laws are on the books banning the sale of caller ID spoofing technology, it is simple to purchase this technology anonymously online.

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