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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Identity theft: a Stolen self

Stories like what happened to the Ross family made up the bulk of credit reporting problems in the 1980s and early 1990s. But in recent years, there has been a sudden and dramatic growth of a new kind of crime, made possible by the ready availability of both credit and once-private information on Americans. In these cases, one person finds another's name and Social Security number, applies for a dozen credit cards, and proceeds to run up huge bills. (Many banks make this kind of theft far easier than it should be by printing their customers' Social Security numbers on their bank statements.) Sometimes the thieves enjoy the merchandise for themselves, go on lavish trips, and eat in fine restaurants. Other times, the thieves fence the ill-gotten merchandise, turning it into cash. This crime has become so common that it has earned its own special name: identity theft .

Sometimes the crook gets the personal information from inside sources: in April 1996, federal prosecutors charged a group of Social Security Administration employees with stealing personal information on more than 11,000 people and selling the data to credit fraud rings, who used the information to activate stolen credit cards and ring up huge bills.[18] Other times, crooks pose as homeless people and rummage through urban trash cans, looking for bank and credit card statements.

A typical case is what happened to Stephen Shaw, a Washington-based journalist.[19] Sometime during the summer ...

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