Video: Stealing identities on the street is easy

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

Many of us are concerned about how well companies and organisations are protecting our personally identifiable information – but how good at we at protecting our own details, such as name, date of birth and email address?

Carole Theriault and I decided to find out, so we took a video camera out onto the streets of Bristol and conducted a Vox Pop, asking people what they thought about identity theft – and also seeing if we could get them to tell complete strangers their personal information.


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There were some interesting points we noticed:

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  • First of all, we had no problems at all getting people to talk to us on camera. 80% of people were happy to stop and chat to us. This surprised us – we thought it would be much more difficult to get the British public (maybe they’re not as shy and retiring as we imagined?) to participate. In fact, we think the fact that we were carrying a TV camera might have helped us. Could society’s desire for “15 seconds of fame” actually be a god send for identity thieves?
  • Also, only one person refused to give us any personal information at all. Everyone else at least gave us their name, and most gave us their date of birth and email address too. Our feeling was that if we had engineered our questions and spent more time with each “victim” we could have probably ascertained their address (“we’d like to send you a copy of the video once it’s finished..”) and the name of their bank/telephone provider too.
  • Let’s not forget – this video was made at the end of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, suggesting that the campaign to raise awareness has not been that successful.
  • We were quite impressed that everyone had heard of the term “identity theft” though. There’s a high awareness of the phrase at the very least, and although we were expecting some interviewees to look baffled by the term no-one did.
  • It was really encouraging that some of the people who participated in the survey realised what we were up to, although some clearly didn’t want to cause a scene and so only jokingly expressed their concern after sharing some of their details.
  • Finally, from our unscientific poll, it appears that many people have not considered what companies are doing – if anything – to protect the data about individuals from leaking out.

Vox Pop interview

It’s not just a personal problem of course – businesses and organisations also have a responsibility to look after sensitive information and ensure it isn’t exposed and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Sophos can help you by providing encryption technology and now we’ve also integrated the ability to scan for sensitive data into our desktop anti-virus and email protection – so you don’t need to deploy and manage a separate product.

Pretty cool, eh?

Thanks to everyone who took part in the video – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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