Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lucid Intelligence – A Free Way to Discover IF Your Identity Has Been Stolen!

Millions of personal and financial records have been compromised in recent years and the criminals involved in trading this information operate worldwide.

"A criminal might be based in Romania, using servers hosted in Russia, stealing data from people in Germany, to buy goods from an American retailer for delivery in the UK, using an Australian credit card," according to a new site called Lucid Intelligence, which seeks to level the playing field for the individual victims of these crimes.

Lucid Intelligence has set up a site that has a user-friendly tool that allows a person to see if their personal and or financial information is in the hands of criminals. It then provides resources – that are free for the most part – a person can use to protect themselves. The Lucid Intelligence Database contains the information of over 40 million people who have already been compromised.

Although, the site freely admits they can't do anything about getting your information back, the truth is that an aware person can take measures to make the information useless (and maybe more dangerous) for criminals to use.

Some of the ways the site suggests protecting yourself is setting up a Google Alert (detailed instructions included), getting a free credit report, finding some free identity theft protection and protecting your computer. Free options of doing this are identified on the site.

All of the records in the Lucid database have already been compromised by criminals and made available on the Internet. These stolen details were found in chat rooms, bulletin boards or FTP sites, which are used as underground forums to sell stolen information. Recently, two major reports indicated there is so much stolen information available, the law of supply and demand is causing prices to go down. This would suggest there is a glut of stolen information out there.

The information is stolen in a variety of ways. It can be stolen by hackers, who compromise a retail or banking system, dishonest employees at a wide variety of places or malicious software delivered by the botnets that "virtually phish" the digital world with billions of spam e-mails. Information can also be stolen when you pay a bill using a card or when an irresponsible employee throws it in trash. Please note, there are other ways information is stolen and I am only listing the more well-known methods.

A lot of the information in the database has been obtained by the highly skilled operators behind Lucid, who seek out and engage cyber criminals and beat them at their own game. These operators, who come from all walks of life, are volunteers and most (if not all of them) have put a few scammers behind bars.

There is little doubt that the amount of information in this database is going to grow and, whenever possible, Lucid records exactly where they discovered the information.

The information you input to do the searches is not maintained by Lucid until you request the detailed summary. There are reasons for this, which I will explain below. The site also doesn't use any cookies that are designed to track activity on a computer. From what I can see, everything associated with the site is designed to protect individual privacy and takes the necessary precautions to stop someone with malicious intent from exploiting the Lucid database itself.

If the search reveals your information has been compromised, they provide you with a limited summary. For an administrative fee – and only after your identity has been completely verified – they will provide you with all a detailed summary. The administrative fee of £10 (approximately $16.56) to get the detailed summary covers the costs of pulling the information. Included in the detailed summary is an individual risk analysis based on the information discovered.

In most cases, the limited summary, combined with the protection information, will be sufficient for most people.

In the past four years, Lucid has turned over the details of every credit card they've discovered to the “Dedicated Cheque and Credit Card Unit” in London and APACS. In turn, this information is turned over to the credit card issuer. Lucid has already provided the details of several hundred thousand compromised credit cards and it is estimated they have saved more than £200,000,000 (approximately $331,250,263) from being stolen. When considering this statistic, we need to remember that the actual card details came from all over the world.

It should be noted that payment (credit/debit) cards aren't the only type of information available for sale on the Internet. Lucid attempts to report all the information they discover if there is a place to report it to.

There are good reasons that Lucid doesn't turn these credit card details over to the card issuers directly. Replacing credit cards is costly and sometimes card issuers choose to merely monitor known compromised information and then issue a new card if there is suspected fraudulent activity. By reporting it to the authorities and APACS, Lucid ensures a record is maintained should someone run into complications with an issuer after they have been victimized. Despite all the zero liability ads out there, the sad truth is that not all victims come out of these schemes without losing money (sometimes a lot).

Another thing the Lucid database might reveal is synthetic identity theft before it comes back to haunt a person. Credit reports don't necessarily catch all forms of identity theft. Sometimes different parts of people's identities are used to forge a synthetic one. In these instances, because a lot of the information doesn't match, the credit bureaus don't pick it up.

Other examples where a credit bureau might not reveal identity theft are medical benefit fraud, employment fraud, government benefit fraud, some forms of check fraud and when it is used to commit crimes of other than a financial nature.

Another thing to consider is that since not all compromised information is used or used right away, the risk is there, but it will not show up on a credit report.

The people behind Lucid are also active in dealing with advance fee fraud (419) and the different varieties of this are covered on the site, also.

Last but not least, if you need further information they have a way to contact a member of the group.

The site is largely the work of Colin Holder, a retired Detective Sergeant from the United Kingdom, who is considered one of the leading experts in the world on advance fee fraud and identity theft. This isn't the first Web site Colin has set up, either. In 2001, he set up the Metropolitan Police Fraud Alert site and came up with the idea that later became the "KYC" and "Money Laundering" compliance database. His full biography, which is both impressive and extensive, can be found on the site.