Data from the 1940 census, released Monday, has excited Americans looking for more information about their heritage. But the information could also help identity thieves.
The release of the 1940 Census data is a treasure trove of information for historians and Americans who want to know more about their genealogy.
But is it also going to be a toy store for con artists and identity theft thieves?
Some computer-security experts are concerned that release of the information may give those with less than pure motives an opportunity to defraud. Senior citizens – there are some 21 million Americans still alive from the 1940 Census – are often the victims of scams.
The worry is that they may be conned by people who learn personal information. But the information release may also be pertinent to even younger Americans, since many banks use security questions such as mother’s maiden name and the street you grew up on.
“This is real data,” says IT security consultant Jeff Farr, president of Farr Systems in Dallas. “It gives identify thieves the chance to legitimize, to put together a picture, a timeline which can be used to manipulate victims into giving data.”
“The next thing you know they are going shopping on your credit card or filing a tax return with your information,” he says.
The US government official who is most concerned about identify theft, Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, was not consulted about releasing the data.