FRAUD ALERT: FOX 17 Investigates Random Viewer

Posted at 10:29 PM, May 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-03 14:25:52-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. –  The IRS reports that it has worked to resolve more than 200,000 identity theft cases in the last four months alone.

FOX 17 News looked for as much personal information as we could on one of our viewers to explain how easy it was for criminals to crack their way into people’s lives.  We waded through websites, searched databases and spent about a day investigating a West Michigan woman’s life without her knowledge.

The information we were able to dig up could be a gold mine for thieves.

In a matter of hours, I was able to find out the intimate details of her life.

Her birthday, her high school, married and maiden name and hobbies, information on her husband, mom and dad, and kids, even the family pet.

We also got our hands on lots of personal pictures, even videos of her grandchildren dancing.

Detective John DeGroot and Sgt. John McCaw of the Metro Fraud and Identity Theft Team say our online posts are part of the problem.

“People are offering up information and I think sometimes without thinking what they are putting out on social media,” DeGroot.

“I think it`s just the ability of people to garner information,” said McCaw.

And, there’s more we found on Julie, her home and work address and phone number, we followed the trail of information to her tree service business in Rockford.

When we showed her what was available, she said she was taken aback.

“I hadn`t really thought about problems like that,” said Julie.

After looking at her family life and birthday on social media, we were able to go to other databases that pulled up addresses, phone numbers and property records.

Julie was shocked that a list of associates popped up with her address and on some searches, her age.

“how it knows I don`t know,” said Julie

Because she listed the month and day of her birthday on Facebook, finding her age on another database could help us calculate the year.

“You can do the math,” said Julie. “It`s very scary,”

Another key piece of security information nearly exposed, her mother’s maiden name.

“If you have your mother`s maiden name family reunion posted on your Facebook page, people are creative, criminals are creative,” said DeGroot.

“It`s insane, absolutely insane,” said Julie.

We also found these pictures and details on her dog.

Detectives say if you’re using your pet’s name as a password, it’s exposed online.

Julie thought her social media sites were safer.

“I thought those pictures were set to private setting,” said Julie. “It`s upsetting.”

Julie said she’s now putting identity protection on her to-do list.

“I thought I was pretty careful with things, it`s obivious It`s not quite as careful as I thought.  I need to do a little bit of tidying up,” said Julie.

If someone does steal your identity with what they find, report it to local law enforcement.

“It is difficult, but there are often times when we catch people either on a small scale or a large scale,” said McCaw.

Detectives say there are a number of things to do to online protect yourself.  Here is a list of the tips below….

1. Limit the type of information you put online.

Do not put birthdays or your mother’s maiden name on a website.

2. Check social media regularly for privacy settings.

Detectives say Facebook and other sites switch their privacy settings all the time.  If you don’t keep up, your information could suddenly be available to others.

3. Don’t use family names or pets as passwords.

4. Keep track of your credit reports.

Detectives say you can do that by getting your free credit report every year from one of the major agencies.

5. Keep track of your personal accounts.

Investigators say it’s important to make sure there aren’t any strange charges on those accounts regularly.

6. Ask database sites to take your information down.

Most sites have a privacy tab which you click on to request that your information be taken down.

For more tips from the Kent County Metro Fraud and Identity Theft Team, check out this link below.