Americans have been scrambling for weeks to protect their credit reports after Equifax revealed it had been hacked, leaving 143 million vulnerable to identity theft.
So, what happens if thieves get hold of your personal information?
IT specialist Art Damiao’s nightmare began when a hacker called him after breaking into his personal email.
“He said, ‘I am the hacker that’s in control of your email right now,'” 36-year-old Damiao told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. “He said, ‘I have all your information,’ and I said, ‘OK, what’s my Social Security?'”
“He started reading it back to be,” Damiao said.
“And he was correct?” Werner asked.
“I didn’t let him finish,” Damiao said.
Damiao hung up, but the high-tech intruder then called again, leaving a voicemail message demanding ransom.
“Hello Mr. Damiao, you will not get your email address back, you will need to contact me and give me the amount of $300 via bitcoin,” the message said. “I also have your Social Security number, your driver’s license number, front and back. I can basically pretend to be you right now. I am you.”
“I was terrified,” Damiao said. “Because there’s this guy that wants to pretend to be me.”
“That made it real,” he added.
Next, he started getting text alerts, notifying him in real time as the hacker tried to change his passwords for his eBay profile, his Amazon account, and then his bank account.
“It kind of felt like I was done for,” Damiao said. “He pretty much had control of everything I do online.”
He doesn’t know how his information was stolen, but for criminals, it can be all too easy.
Cybersecurity expert Serhat Atli took Werner on a tour of the “dark web,” where criminals sell hacked information like Damiao’s.
In one listing, someone is selling 1,500 names, along with Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
“You can buy anything online,” Atli said.
On the “dark web,” Social Security numbers can go for as little as $1, a driver’s license for $20 and a complete medical record with detailed information for as much as $1,000.
“How much does the Equifax hack information help these guys here?” Werner asked Atli.
“If I have somebody’s Social Security number, the address, etc., I can obtain all of these documents [like passports and birth certificates] with all the information that was leaked from Equifax,” Atli said.
“Is there a real potential here that somebody gets your information and turns themselves into Anna Werner 2.0?” Werner asked.
“Yes,” Atli said. “It’s not easy to prove that you are you if there’s another you.”
Damiao finally regained control of his identity, but fears others won’t be so lucky.
“No one knows where this guy is,” he said. “I mean, who knows what he is capable of?”
Damiao did not pay the bitcoin ransom. He doesn’t know how his information leaked out, but says he did learn from the Equifax website that he is one of the millions of victims of that hack, which he says is certainly suspicious timing.