Shoulder Surfing

shoulder surfing imageShoulder surfing is the act of glancing over your shoulder or someone else’s shoulder to glean personal information from another party.  This has become a much larger problem in recent years as cell phones equipped with high resolution cameras have become commonplace.

How Does Shoulder Surfing Theft Occur?

The easiest way for a “shoulder surfer” to steal sensitive information from you is to grab their cell phone and snap a few quick photos of your credit card, credit application or even use their audio recorder application to record your entire conversation.  They can accomplish this with virtual anonymity by pretending to be talking on their phone or sending a text message.  In the past, a shoulder surfer would need to stand close enough to see the victims personal information and try to memorize or write down the sensitive data.

When Should I Be Aware of Shoulder Surfers?

Shoulder surfers generally work in crowded areas, where it’s hard to detect what they’re up to.  Be cautious when you’re in a location where you might be filling out a form with sensitive personal information such as a doctors office or auto dealership.  Also, when giving bank or credit card details on the phone, try to find a secluded area where nobody can eavesdrop on your conversation.  These criminals are good and can easily memorize a pin number or credit card number.  When using a credit card in a store, keep the card in your wallet or close to your person, to avoid having the number available to prying eyes.

Read this NYTimes story for more shoulder surfing examples. 


Stolen Information Can Include:

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

Possible Issues Resulting from Stolen Information:

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