Name. Address. Date of birth. Social Security number.
Most every teen has filled in the blanks with the letters and digits. But few realize how much power that information holds.
They can unlock bank accounts, driver's licenses, lines of credit and - in the wrong hands - trouble.
People ages 18-29 are the most-common target for identity thieves. Ages 14 and up are the fastest-growing group of victims of identity theft. "Identity theft is a growing problem for young people," said Melodi Gates, the director of information security at high-speed Internet company Qwest, "and it's fast growing for several reasons. One, they (teens) tend to not be a careful with their information, which is very much related to the second reason: they don't think their information is valuable, but it is."
Just because a teen doesn't have bills, lines of credit or even have much money doesn't mean they aren't vulnerable to identity theft, Ms. Gates said.
"In fact, that's what makes them an attractive target," she said. "Because they do have clean credit, and because they aren't checking it for what could be going on, they're less likely to notice something when it goes wrong."
Mallory Lewis, 17, a Westminster Schools of Augusta senior, knows she might have been a bit careless with her personal information.
"I've gotten in trouble (with her mother) trying to win free stuff on the Internet," she said. "I probably don't protect it as well as I should."
That hasn't been the case for ChaVonne Broddie, 17, a junior at John S. Davidson Fine Arts School.
"My parents used to always tell me not to put my information out there," she said, "so I'm really careful with it, I keep it private."
That means no personal information on her MySpace.com or FaceBook.com pages. After a visit by an FBI agent to her school warning them of child exploitation, she's not revealing other personal information, either.
"With jobs and things, when they ask for my ID number and ask for my Social Security card number, I run it by my parents before I even let it go," she said.
ChaVonne said she knows the dangers are real, and the precautions necessary, but she's not sure the message is getting through to others.
"I don't think teens think about stuff like that because right now we don't really have credit," she said. "Most people think it can't happen to them or anyone they know, or that it won't happen."
It can happen.
Zach Friesen, 20, had his identity stolen when he was 7.
For 10 years, he had no idea that someone had taken his name and information and had bought a houseboat.
It wasn't until he was 17 and applied for his first job that he learned his credit was flagged and realized what had happened to him.
Now, the junior at University of Colorado in Boulder works with Qwest and shares his message of personal information security.
"Teen have to start being aware about identity theft and that it exists," he said. "Check your credit. The sooner you find out, the more you can take care of it. It's a lot easier than 10 years later."
Teen Board members Larry Blue and Sarah G. Smith contributed to this report.
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teens, be smart. Even if you have not yet applied for your first credit card, you could still be a victim of identity theft.
- Never respond to "phishing" e-mails, where thieves get you to click on a link or request information such as account numbers. Never give out information over the telephone to people posing as workers for legitimate companies. If you're worried, call that organization with the number you already have on some document in your house. No company is going to ask you about information they already have on you.
- Don't be intimidated. Tell adults who ask for Social Security, driver's license or credit card numbers that you want to know how they'll use it and how they'll protect it from identity theft.
- Guard your personal information. Password-protect your wireless phone, PDA and laptop and don't store personal identification information on these and other devices. Shred personal identification information before throwing it away. Never give out personal information over the phone.
- Check yourself out. When you turn 16, frequently check bank and credit card statements for irregularities and ask for help on how to monitor your credit reports at least once a year.
- It's OK to say, "No." Don't loan out any form of personal identification such as a driver's license or passport, even to a friend.
- Protect your Social Security number. When applying for a job, do not provide your Social Security number just because it was requested - it may not be necessary. Because you are also interviewing with the prospective employer, you should determine if you are truly interested in the position before providing your Social Security number for a background check or upon hire.
- Also, don't use your Social Security number on your driver's license. Disclose it only when necessary. If your school wants to use your Social Security number as your ID number, ask if it can be changed to a random number.
- Leave it at home. Don't carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport with
you unless needed.
Source: Qwest, True Credit Learning Center
An eye on Credit
Who Uses Credit Reports? Lenders and creditors (businesses that rely on financing or installment payments such as banks, department stores, student loans, mortgage lenders, health clubs, etc.) use credit reports to get a clear picture of your financial management over the past seven to 10 years.
Checking Your Credit: Teens should check their credit reports at least once a year, even if they have no credit history. This enables you to monitor for identity theft, which is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.
It's important to know how to read your credit report. It is divided into the following six sections:
- Consumer information - name, birth date, address and employer
- Consumer statement - a message you asked to have placed on your credit report
- Account histories - account information, including payment history
- Public records - includes any bankruptcy, tax lien, or judgment filings
- Inquiries - companies that have accessed your credit history in the past two years
- Creditor contacts - addresses and phone numbers of your creditors
NOTE: Remember that when you open a new account, miss a payment or move, these sections are updated in your credit report. TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are the three agencies creditors report to about your credit. Not all creditors report to all three, so you should check all three regularly.
In case of emergency:
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft to file a fraud complaint and complete an identity theft affidavit, or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline toll free at 1-877-IDTHEFT.
- If your identity theft case is serious, you can file a police report to document the theft. You might need a copy of the report to send to credit-reporting agencies or financial institutions as proof of the crime.
- Notify the following agencies if you find irregularities on your credit report:
Financial Institutions. First, call the bank, creditor or lender associated with the account that has been used fraudulently. Have the account locked and damages investigated.
Credit Reporting Agencies. You only need to call one credit-reporting bureau to place a fraud alert on your account. As soon as the alert is confirmed, the other two credit bureaus will be notified.
- To report fraud to Equifax, call (800) 525-6285
- To report fraud to Experian, call (888) EXPERIAN
- To report fraud to TransUnion, call (800) 680-7289
Source: Qwest Communications/Incredible Internet