Fake Credit Card App Booths: An Extremely Unlikely Identity Theft Scenario

Jumping on the identity theft scare bandwagon, The Today Show demonstrated how thieves could successfully steal your personal information by making a fake credit card application booth. They made up a bank, had a printed sign, an electronic kiosk, a folding table, table cloth, and reasonably attractive blonde girl, and got people to input their name, address, social security number, etc, in exchange for a $5 coupon. We’ve never heard of this method being used to perpetuate an identity theft scam, perhaps because it’s retarded.

It requires:

  • High cost/barrier of entry for would-be thieves
  • Lack of concern for low reward relative to risk
  • Extended face-to-face contact with victims
  • Extended public display
  • Getting official permits (they did it outside a student union and inside a mall)
  • Technical aptitude to program kiosk

Do identity thieves use fake credit card apps? Sure, but not with this degree of razzle dazzle. Let’s focus on warning consumers about scams that actually exist in reality, thanks.


Edit Your Comment

  1. getjustin says:

    Saw this right as I awoke this morning. At first I thought, “Who the hell just gives away their SSN?” Then I saw how elaborate their set up was (they had a kiosk and they were giving stuff of cash value away!) and realized how easily they could have duped literally hundreds of people for only $5.

  2. MiltyKiss says:

    “Let’s focus on warning consumers about scams that actually exist in reality, thanks.”

    Why do this when you can just get outrageous situations that will (along with the other stories) continue to scare idiots? :)

  3. crnk says:

    just FYI:
    blond girls don’t exist…..
    blond is a color, and a male with blond hair is a blond. However, the proper feminine usage is blonde.

  4. AT203 says:

    This is actually a well known scam, albeit with some bells and whistles thrown in. Classically the scam involves standing on a corner with a clipboard and asking people to take part in a survey. Maybe you entice them with a bauble, such as candy or a free pen. This setup differs only in that it added some unnecessary glitz.

    Let’s hope the TV audience didn’t take this example so literally. Educating consumers to be skeptical about divulging their personal information can only be a good thing.

  5. FLConsumer says:

    Just go to a college campus and the rest is simple from there.

  6. EtherealStrife says:

    “Getting official permits (they did it outside a student union and inside a mall)”
    At this point I’d imagine it’s easier to just do long distance social engineering, with drastically reduced payout. Arranging for some joe to pick up the permits on your behalf adds yet another face to an already exposed operation. And if you don’t file for the permits, you risk Murphy’s Law (Of Bored Cops + Wannabes). If you really want to pull this off, you need a TOTAL blonde. Pay her in cash to file the permits for you, rent the booth setup, set up the booth, man it, and pack it up. And never have any face to face time with her or anyone else. Depending on how the kiosk works, possibly a second person to operate that.

  7. zaq2g says:

    I don’t see why this is so hard, especially on college campuses during orientation week when campuses are filled with all sorts of booths. How hard can it be to set up a table with some printed material and free junk like candy and pens

  8. humorbot says:

    How are can you suggest this scam is “retarded” when you just posted a note-for-note identical credit card ploy a little while ago? Sure, Citi’s pita for your social may originate from a legitimate bank, but that’s the only difference. Seems setting up a similar carrot-stick arrangement for a fictional bank is a perfectly feasible way of fleecing all sorts of personal info from people. As you only just griped about. Yourselves. A few posts ago.

  9. m_m says:

    I worked at a gym where the membership app had a field for their SSN. It was completely unnecessary, and if anyone asked, I told them not to fill it out. However, about 20-30% of people filled out their SSN, just proving that many people are far too careless with their personal information. I would be willing to bet that the same scam as this could be pulled, with a small cash reward but for something not nearly as momentous as a credit card, but still have an optional SSN field. Even if only 20% filled it out, it would still be worth it.

  10. Walkallovaya says:

    LOL @ Today Show! People are looking hilariously stupid here: the perpetrators and victims of this prank in addition to Matt Lauer and the producers involved.

  11. If it were profitable enough to do it this way, I bet you that this would totally happen. It’s not that hard to put together software and get a little kiosk. The fact of the matter is that you could just avoid all the gizmos and offer Citi/Discover/whatever card applications and just use the application documents.

  12. digitalgimpus says:

    Not so sure this crime is so hard to pull off. People all the time pose as fake charities, sell counterfeit (often damaged or misrepresented) goods on the street. Often the same street corners every day for months if not years.

    The problem with ID theft is that it doesn’t have to be instant. These guys could wait 6 months before using any of the info they stole. 99.9997% would never even connect the booth they signed up at several months prior as being the source of their theft. Face time isn’t really a concern for them. More likely to be caught red handed pickpocketing than doing this.

    As far as “permits”, people setup stands all the time without and get away with it.

    Effort is really minimal. Just hand out forms. Not much work to do. People flock to these things, even if there’s no actual freebe’s. Just a “enter to win” is all you need. That eliminates all cost except for a couple dollars on a picnic table, table cloth, and making copies of a bogus form.

  13. B says:

    Did they at least give out a free burrito?

  14. kimsama says:

    @crnk: You learn something new every day. ^_^

  15. Well, it may be “Dee Dee Dee, Retarded!”

    But it worked :/

  16. rjhiggins says:

    First, “retarded” is such a junior high (and offensive in this context) word. Can’t you do a little better, Ben?

    Second, while this *exact* scenario may not be likely, obviously similar things are done all the time — as you have pointed out many times. I don’t understand the over-the-top criticism for a legitimate consumer warning, just because you took it a bit too literally.

  17. mac-phisto says:

    this is pretty elaborate, but i already know someone who fell victim to a similar scam:

    person at a truckstop solicits names, addresses & phone numbers of people for a “drawing” or “lottery”. month or two later, the people who signed up receive a check in the mail as part of an advanced fee scam. the person i encountered also received a phone call telling her she won & outlining the details of the scam (wire money here to cover taxes or whatever when you get the check).

    she lost $5000. by planting the seed – having her sign up at the truck stop – they succeeded in overcoming the objections that people would commonly have for a scam like this.

  18. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    Maybe not as “retarded” as you assume:

    #High cost/barrier of entry for would-be thieves

    You’ve heard of the fake ATM machines, or people even installing a false front to an existing ATM? Not too dissimilar, I think.

    # Lack of concern for low reward relative to risk
    # Extended face-to-face contact with victims
    # Extended public display

    Hire a couple of college kids to staff the booth for cash. They take the risk, you get the reward.

    #Getting official permits (they did it outside a student union and inside a mall)

    Depends on what passes for an “official permit” at that particular venue.

    #Technical aptitude to program kiosk

    Again, depends on how elaborate you want to make the “kiosk” (some box that would hold a CPU and serve as a stand for the keyboard and screen) and form, which you could create from a template.

    I think that what it really comes down to is this: how many people are willing to give out their credit info on the spot to people that they’ve never heard of? Remember just how many people have gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, Ben.

  19. I get that this isn’t likely and is over the top but I think that in a way that makes it a better warning. It’s better for people to be wary of giving their SSN to anyone no matter how professional their set up is and not just the scraggly college kid standing on the corner with a clipboard.

  20. nardo218 says:

    Sounds like something you’d see on a college campus.

  21. nardo218 says:

    @King of the Wild Frontier: When I was in college ~7 years ago, they had just set up email kiosks that were really a PC fitted into an enclosed, freestanding, metal box. A crook could could steal one of these and mod it to his amusement.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I think Oprah did the street survey once, and asked for SSN. She told the audience that they all could have had their identity stolen using the information on the survey, most people provided name, B-date, and SSN on the “survey”.

    Be careful folks. Just because it sounds “far-fetched” doesn’t mean it can, or won’t, happen.

  23. jaewon223 says:

    “reasonably attractive blonde girl”


  24. ShadowArmor says:

    I agree that this is a very easy scam to pull off. When I started college (1998) they just had a nice looking table with some branded mugs and t-shirts. All the applications were done on clipboards on paper. Why make up a fake bank? How many identities do you have to steal to make it “worth it”. I bet it would pay off with just one.

  25. JayDeEm says:

    No fancy kiosk necessary. I just flew through Atlanta airport last week and AirTran had people sitting at makeshift booths with Dell laptops taking applications for their ‘Rewards’ card. I was lucky enough to get stuck there for 6 hours and saw a good 20 or so people give up their information with dozens of strangers in ear-shot.