The costs of most goods are so much higher than they were 30 years ago. Back then, cars were under $10,000 (I remember this because the Price is Right only had four missing digits in their Lucky Seven game). You could feed a family of four for $10 and even have change left over to buy a 25 cent candy bar. But what can you buy for $10 in 2008? I could buy just under three gallons of gas for my car, which would probably last me a couple of days. I could buy lunch at the local sushi place but only lunch since there wouldn't be enough left to buy something to drink. Or, I could buy 10 United States identities.
On underground economy servers, criminals sell a variety of illegal goods and services including bank account credentials, credit card numbers, and full identities. Typically, these goods are used for identity theft related activities. In the ISTR XIII, Symantec observed that the cost of a full identity was 10 times cheaper than it was at the beginning of 2007 and has gained in popularity to become the number three top ranked item advertised for sale. The contents of a full identity may vary, depending on the seller: it typically consists of a name, address, date of birth, phone number, and/or Social Security number. I've also seen sellers include extras such as driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, email address, or “secret” questions/answers to entice buyers.
Most people associate identity theft with money as most reported cases involve criminals using the identity for activities such as obtaining credit cards, applying for loans, obtaining expensive medical or pharmaceutical treatments, or stealing homes. Financial identity theft is only one of the many types of identity theft that exists. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) categorizes identity theft into five major types: financial (the identity is used to obtain goods and services), criminal (the identity is used during a criminal investigation or arrest), commercial (the identity of a business is used to obtain credit), governmental (the identity is used to obtain government issued documents such as a passport or driver's license), and cloning (the identity is assumed by another and used on a daily basis).
Once a criminal purchases a full identity, it can be used to accomplish a variety of tasks, including making a lot of money. Usually, they change the victim's mailing address to route all mail, including credit card bills and financial statements to another location. The criminal can then conduct fraudulent activities without the victim's knowledge and make a tidy profit from them. And unless the victim diligently monitors their credit activity, it may take months to clear up these activities from their credit rating. A recent survey showed that, on average, criminals obtained $5,720 in goods and services from each fraud victim. Now's let's apply that to the 10 United States identities that I could buy for $10. This means that I could theoretically make a total of $57,200 from those 10 identities. Not a bad profit for a $10 investment in this day and age!