The Right Story Can Make ID Theft Easy

"Data brokers" collect and then sell sensitive personal information — and the data they are trading could be yours. Wednesday, 11 of them were called before Congress and took the Fifth, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

The two who didn't gave almost gleeful accounts of how easily they can get what they want by pretending to be you.

"There are no more secrets and that's the truth of the matter," one of them said at the hearing.

Need someone's Social Security number? Just call the local utility company and give them a deceptive line, says James Rapp, who used to be a master at what's known in the business as "pretexting," or impersonating others — using no more than a phone and a silver tongue.

Rapp describes a typical story that might be used:

" 'My father and I are junior and senior and I think you may have him confused with me.' They're going to say, 'Well we don't have your father, we have you.' I say, 'This is my Soc.' They'll say, 'Oh no! That's not the one we have, here's the one we have'. "

The information is then sold to companies trying to track down debtors, or to jealous spouses. Sometimes, even to criminals.

Rapp also worked for the tabloid press, getting credit card records for notables such as actress Calista Flockhart.

His "How-To" manual tells how to get anything, from someone's military records to their "in-depth medical analysis" from a local physician.

Data brokers use hundreds of Web sites to advertise their services, but most of those sites, say investigators, link up to a small group of people who trade scripts and share tactics.

Among those who chose not to talk to Congress was a Colorado state legislator who's in the business. There was also ex-con John Strange, accused of deception in two states.

As for how lucrative it can be, in a deposition in March, Strange said that just one of his two family businesses grossed $1.4 million last year.

For Rapp, the high life came to an abrupt end when he was arrested on deception charges several years ago. The judge summed it up this way: "It just boils down to lying to make big money."

Believe it or not, it's hard to prosecute these kinds of cases because the pretexters don't steal people's assets, they simply sell personal data. Congress is now working to pass laws making it illegal to obtain, sell or even possess the information.