Protecting yourself

Your Social Security number is worth peanuts on the dark web

Susan Ladika

Every time I talk to Internet security experts, they tell me that if a fraudster gets his hands on your Social Security number, he’s got the “keys to the kingdom,” and can use that information to perpetrate all kinds of fraud.

How much are the keys to the kingdom worth on the dark web?

According to a recent report from Experian, one of the main credit reporting agencies, a Social Security number is only worth $1 if bad guys swipe it and sell it online.

That’s down from $7-$8 10 years ago, according to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report.

But $1! It seems almost insulting that cybercriminals can get their hands on our information for less than the cost of a pack of gum.

Your SSN unlocks your financial kingdom

With your Social Security number, the cybercrooks can file a fraudulent tax return in your name and claim a refund, or use it to open bank accounts and credit cards. With fraudulent credit cards, a fraudster can run up debt without paying it off, while your credit report takes the hit.

In 2016, 15.4 million Americans fell victim to identity theft – up 16 percent from 2015. They lost a combined total of $16 billion, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research study released last year.

That means an average of more than $1,000 in financial losses for each victim – not to mention the hours of time and effort often spent trying to untangle the messes fraudsters can cause.

Resolving identity theft issues can take a day to a month for most consumers, according to identity theft protection company LifeLock. In extreme cases, restoring one’s identity can take up to 1,200 hours over the course of a year.

The value of a Social Security number varies

While Social Security numbers are critical information, their asking price is a matter of supply and demand, says Michael Bruemmer, Experian’s vice president of data breach resolution.

Social Security numbers stolen in a large-scale data breach, without more of your personal information, such as your address or birth date, are more likely to sell for $1. With more of your personal information, your Social Security number rises in value on the dark web.

While Social Security numbers can be the cheapest things fraudsters can buy on the dark web, there’s plenty of other information for sale there.

Experian reports credit card and debit card numbers sell for between $5 and $110 – with credit card numbers being more in demand.

The price that a credit card goes for depends on the amount of information the fraudsters have. “Fullz info” – which is a bundle of information that includes your “full” information, such as name, birth date, Social Security number, account numbers and other information – can be worth $30.

Your loyalty accounts can bring $20 and your PayPal account login can sell for $20 to $200. The big financial draws are your medical records, which can fetch up to $1,000, and your U.S. passport, which can command $1,000 to $2,000.

Information that can be used multiple times, or credit cards with higher limits, are more valuable to criminals, Experian reports.

What you can do to cut your ID theft risk

Data breaches hit retailers, hospitals, government agencies and restaurant chains.

All you and I, as consumers, can do is try to limit the amount of information available to fraudsters.

To do this, Bruemmer suggests:

  • Don’t post personal information, such as your birth date or mother’s maiden name, on social media.
  • Use a credit card with a low credit limit for online shopping.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi to access your financial information.
  • Check your credit report regularly for unauthorized accounts.

By taking these measures, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your Social Security number and other important personal and financial information under lock and key.

Your Social Security number may sell for only $1 on the dark web, but it’s a lot more valuable to you.

See related: What is the dark web and why we should care, Guard the last four digits of your Social Security number, Fraudsters create synthetic identities from personal info on the web

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