Identity Theft Expert: Theft Runs Rampant as Economy Tumbles

matrixvortex1At the Privacy Project, our success is your nightmare (unless you are my speaking agent).

Business at the Sileo Group and engagements as an identity theft speaker are up 400% compared with the same period last year. I am booked for exactly 4X as many identity theft prevention and privacy leadership speeches in the first quarter of 2009 as I was in 2008; and 2008 brought me more work than I could handle on my own. Some of this is due to an extensive contract with the Department of Defense, but not all of it.

I’m not sharing our success to blow my own horn, though admittedly, it is satisfying to finally share some good news with you after having lost so much to this crime.

I’m sharing because our success gave me cold sweats at 3am this morning.

Why? Because the strength of my business is inversely proportional to the safety of yours. My business is thriving because identity theft is thriving, and that is not my purpose for being in business. I am in the identity theft prevention business to put myself out of a job. When I say it keeps me awake at night, I’m being sincere. At 3am this morning, I spent several hours deciphering the underlying causes responsible for the exploding demand for identity theft speakers… even as the meetings and speaking business has suffered drastically at the hands of the spiraling economy. And then it came to me; I realized that the answer was contained in the question… It’s the economy stupid (referring to myself in this case). As the economy tumbles, people look for alternative forms of income. Markets down, crime up. And the most attractive and lucrative crime is identity theft and corporate intellectual property theft. But it’s not just that identity theft crimes are rising, it’s also that awareness of the problem is finally increasing and making headline news. Michael  Chertoff, the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, explained the role of identity in our economy very eloquently:

“It lies at the core of a great deal of what we do protecting our financial security, our personal security, and our reputational security. And what I’m referring to is how we manage and protect our personal identities because I’m going to submit to you that in the 21st Century, the most important asset that we have to protect as individuals and as part of our nation is the control of our identity, who we are, how we identify ourselves, whether other people are permitted to masquerade and pretend to be us, and thereby damage our livelihood, damage our assets, damage our reputation, damage our standing in our community.”

– Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of US Homeland Defense

And look at the headline on the front page of last Friday’s USA Today: As the market tumbles, cyberthieves log on: Data-stealing scams have kicked into high gear since last fall. Here is a compilation of quotes from the USA Today article…

Cybercriminals have launched a massive new wave of Internet-based schemes to steal personal data and carry out financial scams in an effort to take advantage of the fear and confusion created by tumbling financial markets… [Cybercriminals] are breaching… the highest levels of the global finance infrastructure and a majority of our home computers… Thieves recently broke into [’s] databases to steal user IDs, passwords and other data that could be useful in a variety of scams… the fact that thousands of tech-savvy workers are being laid off in today’s economy is raising concerns that some of the jobless might see cybercrime as a way to survive… Data-stealing gangs could begin reaching out to laid-off of disgruntled employees who know their employers’ tech systems…

Or how about an article in the Wall Street Journal on the very same day entitled: Cyber-Scams On the Uptick In Downturn:

The bear economy is creating a bull market for cyber-crooks… cyber-assaults on many banks have doubled in the past six months… hundreds of senior executives across the globe received personally addressed emails [sic] last April, saying they were being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury… when users clicked on a link containing the attachment, their computers were infected with malicious software… [experts suspect that the] fraudsters were trying to get “first-quarter financial results of publicly traded companies a week before everybody else”… The use of cellphone text messages is a fairly new tactic…

So what is the solution? For business executives, implementing a Privacy Strategy falls into three strategic initiatives:

  1. Personal Knowledge. Educate your entire team about data theft, from the boardroom to the mailroom. Employees and executives won’t take responsibility for the sanctity and privacy of your customer data, employee records and intellectual capital until they learn to take responsibility for their own private information. All good habits start with the individual human beings that handle the sensitive data inside of your corporation.
  2. Culture of Privacy. Protecting data assets is not a one-time event, it is part of the corporate fabric. You can’t expect to simply publish a privacy policy and have your employees care about it, let alone read it. That’s like asking them to read the fine print on a stranger’s mortgage contract – why should they care? They have to be invested in, empowered, motivated, rewarded and held accountable for the way they protect your information assets. It is imperative that your organization develops a privacy strategy that includes a healthy culture of privacy.
  3. Executive Responsibility. Recently, I wrote an article entitled The 7 Deadly Sins of Privacy Leadership: How CEOs Enable Data Breach. Part of the problem is that we look at identity theft and data breach through the singular lens of technology when we should be viewing it through the eyes of executive leadership. As leadership begins to recognize that they are part of the problem, they will become more of the solution.

Interested in educating your team to Think Like a Spy (individual prevention), Build a Culture of Privacy (team-based solutions) or Eliminate the 7 Deadly Sins (leadership)? Learn more about bringing Identity Theft Expert John Sileo to your next conference, meeting or event.


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3 Responses to Identity Theft Expert: Theft Runs Rampant as Economy Tumbles

  1. Charles Woods: February 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm


    I know it keeps you up at night sometimes. It does me. I just wished I knew enough to
    help you, because it is only going to get worse.

  2. Matt Mohr: April 7, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Other than being more diligent (thinking like a spy),what services would you suggest we look at that other companies offer? Like credit card services and banks that have some insurances or ID/fraud precention mechanisms already built in?

  3. John: April 9, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Matt, thanks for the question. I personally use a service to monitor and protect my own identity called CSIdentity. Visit to learn more about their products. They are the most robust monitoring service I have come across. They also have an amazing background screening service called SAFE that helps you avoid hiring spies, moles and frauds.

    There are a whole host of other products out there. Maybe I will try to blog about some of those in the future!


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