When it comes to cyber security in the digital age, Special Agent Evan Patterson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is doing his best to ensure people are aware of the consequences of releasing too much personal information.
Patterson led a discussion titled "Cyber Safety: A Real World Case Study" at the fifth annual West Virginia Office of Technology's Information Security Conference on Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center. Nearly 100 were in attendance, including state employees and local attorneys who attended the conference as a substitute for their security training requirement.
Patterson spoke about Social Security numbers and the potential damage that could be done if someone got a hold of that number.
"Once you have access to the last four numbers, it's relatively easy to determine the rest of the numbers," Patterson said.
He said the first three numbers of your Social Security number corresponds to the region in which you were born. For example, those born in West Virginia have a Social Security number beginning in a range from 232-236.
"Social Security numbers are the holy grail," Patterson said. "Many insurance companies today don't require your Social Security number. It's important to know this ... The government is moving away from using your Social Security number as an identifier."
He said he knows a man who went to a doctor's office and chose not to release his Social Security number. When he was told he needed to provide it, the man asked how it was going to be protected. He was told all the documents were locked away at night, although it was obvious that there were stacks of documents lying atop the file cabinets.
Instead of risking his identity, he left the doctor's office.
Patterson said the worst thing that could happen if someone had your Social Security number would be total identity theft. He pointed to a specific case in Missouri in which an illegal immigrant stole someone's Social Security number to get credit cards, a mortgage, food stamps, health care, a car, and other valuables.
The victim called the Social Security Administration and told them her identity had been stolen and asked for a new number. The subject was given the new number, not the victim. It took 12 years for the victim to get everything worked out and get her identity back.
Patterson spoke about social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
"I can go to someone's personal profile and within 30 seconds know their anniversary date, mother's maiden name, date of birth, kids' names, current address, pets' names and other important information," Patterson said. "Facebook and Twitter are the go-to places for people seeking to steal someone's identity."
He said many iPhone users have their GPS tracker enabled. When people post pictures on the Internet, information as to where that photo was taken will be accessible to others.