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The Mormon Who Creates Billions of Fake Identities Every Month

Feb 4 2014, 12:07am CST | by , in News | Technology News

The Mormon Who Creates Billions of Fake Identities Every Month
 
 

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The Mormon Who Creates Billions of Fake Identities Every Month

Suspicious NSA and FBI agents have contacted Jacob Allred about his websites, and Social Security Administration investigators, waving badges, have showed up at his door. Businesses have cursed him. Some have telephoned to yell at him in the middle of the night, and others have threatened lawsuits.

Allred, 28, is the real person behind fakenamegenerator.com, a site that creates all aspects of a credible digital person: a name, date of birth, address, email, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, even a credible-looking credit card number with expiry date and security code. The identities may look real, but are entirely inventions, so are legal, a programmed figment of computer imagination. The original site announced itself as a public service, and required that visitors click to “agree to be responsible for your own actions.”

In 2006, after finishing two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Allred was looking for something to do with his software engineering skills. Inspired by a rudimentary random address program he had used years before, he started fakenamegenerator.com. “I thought it be neat to do one that was more realistic,” he says (and yes, he peppers his clean-cut conversation with words like neat).

The names come from U.S. census data of common first and last names. Allred also scraped dozens of foreign data sources and web sites for a wide variety of nationalities including Tunisian, Danish, Russian and Italian.

He collects lists of city streets and ZIP codes and aligns them with real telephone area codes and the first six digits of phone numbers to make everything sync up realistically. For Social Security numbers, he follows past patterns to link numbers to state and date of issue, so that there is no obvious discrepancy with what a real American might possess. Credit card numbers come from banks that do not exist or have gone out of business (but they do not work).

On a typical month fakenamegenerator.com gets more than three million hits (and he also runs Identitygenerator.com and Namegenerator.in), creating billions of identities every month. Thanks to advertising and the traffic he generates, the site has become his main source of income. He says he earns enough to afford a nice house and live comfortably with his wife and daughter in Texas.

So what are people doing with so many digital avatars?

Allred says some large batches are used by software engineers to test database systems, such as for new hospital administration software. For such purposes the site allows users to order up batches of identities in bulk, many thousands at a time. Fiction writers and video games (including Hitman: Absolution) have used the site to generate names and details about characters. New parents have scrolled through while pondering baby names.

Even with such legitimate purposes, law enforcement officials have arrived and contacted Allred’s San Antonio home more than once. The FBI was already poking around to find out what he was up to in 2008. Last year the NSA called, wondering if he knew anything about a batch of 50,000 stolen names. “There are a lot of people very uncomfortable about it,” he says about his site. “Some people think I am a horrible person contributing to identity theft.”

“I’m not doing anything illegal, I’m generating fake information,” he tells officials. “I explained to them it was all fake data.”

Last May investigators came to his home to demand that he not display Social Security numbers on the open Internet, even if they were not real. He reached a deal with them to create such numbers only if a user logs into the site with an email address. He also explained that another one of his sites, www.ssnregistry.org, which offers to look up Social Security numbers by name, is actually a silly gag: after a few seconds, the site tells users it found them and displays a picture of a chimpanzee.

Others use fakenamegenerator.com to create identities to sign up for trial online services and subscriptions. All of these possibilities have helped fakenamegenerator.com develop an international following. Of total users, only 39 percent come from the United States, with the next biggest visitor segments from Canada, India and Australia.

Allred continue to maintain the site and make improvements, for example, adding Chechnya to the list of nations served. And it is undemanding enough that he has plenty of time to indulge of his hobby of science fiction. His website lists eight books he has read already this year, following his list of 71 titles last year.

Source: Forbes

 

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
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