April 23, 2009 at 8:00 AM ET
Identity theft is usually a virtual, intangible crime. The theft often occurs in cyberspace, with criminals ordering merchandise with stolen credit cards, or downloading cash from online bank accounts. The victims rarely know anything has happened until months -- or even years -- later. There's no blood, no shattered glass, no broken locks. Not even the anxiety rush that comes after the brush of a pickpocket.
But identity thieves, in the end, are real people stealing real money and causing real harm. And surprisingly often, they are friends, family members, or co-workers who initiate the crime by stealing personal information found on papers left around offices or homes. The stolen data can be surprisingly easy to come by, as this ID theft "commercial" shows.
In it, a YouTube poster claims to have a cache of stolen data dossiers for sale. He films himself sitting in his car, sifting through what appear to be file folders, perhaps freshly stolen from an office or a dumpster outside an office building. With a shaky hand, he shows some of the files, then announces that he will sell complete data sets for $25 -- or at a discount of 5 for $100 -- to anyone who e-mails him.
You can watch part of the video by clicking above. We've included only a small portion of the video to avoid abetting what appears to be a crime. Here's more of what the salesman had to say in the video:
"I have records for sale. These records include the following: Name. Sex of the individual. Social Security number of the individual. Mother's name. Their current street address," he says.
At this point, a beeper begins to sound in his car, perhaps because his seat belt isn't fastened. Then, he continues to list the items he has for sale. "License number. Their date of birth. Kind of work they are in, the industry that they're in. And their net worth. That's including real estate and any liquid assets. And I could get a good credit read on them as well."
Those details would give an identity thief all the information they'd need to wreak havoc with a victim's credit report, and probably, their financial life,
Without purchasing records from the poster, it is impossible to determine that the records are genuine. But in a short e-mail dialog with msnbc.com, the poster claimed the information was real and said that he could sell us 100 records if we deposited money into his PayPal account.
He did not answer a question posed about the video, which was removed from YouTube a few days after it appeared, but not before msnbc.com viewed it and copied it. A message at the link now says the video was "removed by the user."
Before finishing the sales pitch in the video, the poster includes some fine print:
"These records are not to be used for any illegal purposes. They are for outsourcing marketing materials and anything of that nature," he said.
He then closed with a polite sign off.
"Thank you very much," he said.