File sharing networks open door to identity theft

According to the Washington Post, in any given second, nearly 22 million people around the globe are on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks downloading and swapping movies, software and documents over the Internet. Unfortunately, these same networks also provide identity thieves an open door to consumers’ personal information.

LifeLock wants to warn consumers about one of the latest identity threats facing consumers today. Cyber thieves are targeting their newest identity victims through the use of file-sharing networks. Consumers and their family members need to be wary about with whom they share music, photos or documents online because criminals could be downloading the information stored on personal computers, including Social Security numbers, home addresses and even health information.

Users of file-sharing networks can inadvertently expose the contents of entire hard drives containing personal information to others on the network. By simply searching for specific keywords, identity thieves are able to access and download personal information of thousands upon thousands of individuals. Footage from The Today Show in February 26, 2009, demonstrated the dangers of these networks. They found an astounding 25,800 student loan applications, more than 150,000 tax returns and nearly 626,000 credit reports, all made easily accessible on file-sharing networks.

While anti-virus software can help protect computers from viruses, many of these programs cannot help stop thieves from accessing the computer’s hard drive, especially if the computer user has given the intruder permission through a file-sharing network. Through the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, consumers are essentially handing over this access.

In addition, many consumers are not aware of the ways in which the people they trust with their personal information store that information or keep it private, such as doctors or employees of financial institutions. According to the Washington Post, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warned nearly 100 organizations, including companies, schools and local governments, that the personal information of their customers and/or employees had been leaked onto online file-sharing networks. The information found included Social Security numbers, health information and drivers’ licenses.