It took only a few seconds to uncover the target’s entire life.
On the messaging app Telegram, I entered a tiny amount of information about my target into the dark blue text box—their name and the state I believed they lived in—and pressed enter. A short while later, the bot spat out a file containing every address that person had ever lived at in the U.S., all the way back to their college dorm more than a decade earlier. The file included the names and birth years of their relatives. It listed the target’s mobile phone numbers and provider, as well as personal email addresses. Finally, the file contained information from their drivers’ license, including its unique identification number. All of that data cost $15 in Bitcoin. The bot sometimes offers the Social Security number too for $20.
This is the result of a secret weapon criminals are selling access to online that appears to tap into an especially powerful set of data: the target’s credit header. This is personal information that the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have on most adults in America via their credit cards. Through a complex web of agreements and purchases, that data trickles down from the credit bureaus to other companies who offer it to debt collectors, insurance companies, and law enforcement.
A 404 Media investigation has found that criminals have managed to tap into that data supply chain, in some cases by stealing former law enforcement officer’s identities, and are selling unfettered access to their criminal cohorts online. The tool 404 Media tested has also been used to gather information on high profile targets such as Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, and even President Joe Biden, seemingly without restriction. 404 Media verified that although not always sensitive, at least some of that data is accurate.