Shoulder Surfing

Glancing over your shoulder for personal information, “Shoulder Surfing,” has become a much greater threat due to the prevalence of mobile phones equipped with cameras and video recorders.

How Does Shoulder Surfing Theft Occur?

In times past, a “shoulder-surfer” would stand nearby while you were completing a purchase or filling out an application and try to steal personal information, like your name, address or credit card number, by glancing over your shoulder or eavesdropping on your conversation. But with cell phones, thieves can snap pictures of credit cards, credit applications, or record entire conversations while appearing to be texting or talking on the phone.

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Where Am I Most At Risk Of Shoulder Surfing Theft?

Shoulder surfing is most effective in crowded areas, where it can be much less obvious. While you are completing a credit application, employment application, medical paperwork, or some other activity that involves writing down your personal information, shoulder surfers are using some means to record the information. It can be as simple as memorizing what they hear, to recording it on their cell phone, and, at its extreme, can even involve binoculars or other magnification devices to make the thief’s presence even less obvious.

Information thieves can collect:

  • Street address
  • Social Security number
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Bank account information
  • Employment history
  • Other personal information

What thieves can do with this information:

  • Identity theft
  • Employment-related fraud
  • Loan fraud/payday loan fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Benefits fraud
  • Tax fraud
  • Other identity fraud

Federal Trade Commission. “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book For
January – December 2011.” February 2012.

Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.

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