You probably know what your identity is worth to you, and it’s likely highly valuable, but do you know what it’s worth to a thief? Surprisingly, it’s not that much. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on your identity theft prevention efforts.
Value of identities on the Black Market
In 2009, Symantec developed a tool that could determine the value of your identity on the black market. Tony Bradley, a writer for PC World, used the calculator and discovered that his identity was worth a mere $12.29. This wasn’t the only time identities were revealed to be worth very little.
Pulling data from 2013 and 2014 Dell SecureWorks reports, Bankrate.com contributor Jeanine Skowronski found the average black market prices for individual pieces of information, such as date of birth or credit card numbers. Visa or MasterCard credentials ranked as the least valuable, with an average black market price of $4. Health insurance credentials, on the other hand, have an estimated average cost of $20.
Robert Siciliano, a security expert from Boston, Mass., told Skowronski that thieves make more money selling composites of these identifying details, called “Fullz.” These are worth around $30 apiece. If they include health care information, however, that price can reach around $1,000.
What this reveals is that thieves aren’t necessarily looking to steal one lone identity – that has no worth on the market. It does, however, point to the increasing trend of data breaches, where a (defrauder) can swipe thousands to millions of identities at once and make a handsome profit off of the loot.
As Bradley also pointed out in the PC World article, it also explains why thieves are more likely to sell the data from these breaches instead of the identities themselves. With high risk and little reward, it’s far less appealing to go through the trouble of gleaning and selling a bunch of identities than just proffering the data for a large sum.
Additionally, financial gain through the black market isn’t always the motive. A thief could assume your identity to obtain health care, open a new line of credit or other damaging actions. In these instances, your identity definitely has appeal beyond its black market value. According to GigaOm, some cases involve hackers exchanging stolen social media accounts.
“Based on what we’ve been seeing lately, while the financial fraud is still the main goal of many hackers, there is an increased interest in social media accounts,” Idan Aharoni, head of RSA Cyber Intelligence, told GigaOm. “Interesting, but not surprising – cybercriminals go where the money is and if they can make money by selling social media followers and ‘Likes,’ we’ll definitely see some of them move in that direction.”
Why you should protect yourself
Just because your identity is worth relatively little on its own on the black market, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be wary of how you share information about yourself. This in no ways means that you’re not vulnerable to identity theft because your identity doesn’t have high black market value.
Consumers should still take the necessary steps to guard their identity, both on and offline. This means installing security software, using strong and frequently updated passwords, avoiding suspicious emails or social media activity, regularly checking your credit reports and shredding documents containing sensitive information.
To take these efforts a step further, you can invest in a credit monitoring service like Identity Guard, which can help by notifying you of certain activity that may indicate fraud. This way, you can be prompted to take action.