How Rappers Used Data to Steal Identities

Looking to commit a crime? Don’t have a smart home. That was a lesson that rapper Tony Da Boss of Charlotte, North Carolina learned too late. Da Boss, along with seven members of the hip-hop crew FreeBandz Gang, had been stealing identities to buy luxury cars and electronics and to rent apartments.

After about $1.2 million in damages, Da Boss and his crew pled guilty to identity theft earlier this year. Law enforcement infiltrated Da Boss’ crimes through his Google Nest. They found Da Boss’ apartment filled with firearms, drug paraphernalia, and most troubling, reams of U.S citizens’ personal data.

Nest-Cam-Indoor-gun-metal-black-camera
Nest Cam Indoor

Da Boss and his crew obtained personal data through a surveillance technology called TLO, a child of the credit rate reporter TransUnion. TLO covers the personal data of 95% of the U.S population, according to their website. TLO’s data, like over 350 million U.S Social Security numbers, make it one of the largest commercial surveillance sources around.

All of the U.S law enforcement uses TLO to investigate crimes, while debt collectors and other private companies use it for background checks. Private investigators have even used the technology to catch cheating spouses. In the wrong hands, however, individuals can use TLO  to steal the identities of nearly person in the United States.

A disgruntled debt collection employee granted Da Boss and crew direct access to TLO in 2017. While TLO’s purpose is to identify criminals in this case, it facilitated crime. Lucky for law enforcement, it was all captured by the criminal enterprise’s Google Nest.

After a Postal Service warrant, Google handed over Da Boss’ surveillance footage and personal data. This is the first known case in the U.S of a federal law enforcement agency demanding information from Nest. 

In a transparency report, Nest explains its compliance with government agencies demanding personal data. While the report does not discuss specific cases, it does show that Nest only produced data for about 15% of requests from December 31st, 2017 to June 30th, 2018. Since its inception, Nest has handed government agencies data over 300 times. 

With the home security industry projecting to reach by $7.9 billion by 2021, home surveillance and privacy are more relevant now than ever before.

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza is a journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout her career, her work has spanned many intersections within the tech industry. At SquareFoot, a New York-based real estate technology company, she wrote about the ways in which technology has changed the real estate industry, as well as the challenges that business owners face when they want to invest in property. At Degreed.com, an education technology website, Aliza created digital content for lifelong learners, exploring the ways in which technology has democratized education. Additionally, she has written articles for The Huffington Post as well as her own content on Medium, the online publishing platform. Aliza’s love of journalism and research stems from the excellent Journalism program at Brandeis University. At Brandeis, Aliza interned as a research assistant at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit “news room without walls”. There, Aliza was paired with an investigative journalist and used academic databases to obtain data on everything from the suicide rates in Bhutan to local Boston court cases. Her last position was as an account executive at Yelp, educating business owners on the power of technology to increase revenue. Throughout, however, her heart remained with tech journalism, and she’s thrilled to be writing for Security Baron. When she’s not keeping afloat of the latest tech trends, Aliza likes to cook, read, and write. A former high school “Class Clown,” Aliza has completed two feature-length screenplays, a pilot, and countless comedic sketches. On her days off you can find her relaxing in Prospect Park, trying the latest flavors at Ample Hills Ice Cream, and spending time with friends and family.

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