Identity theft is a major concern in today’s high-tech world. Vulnerable groups are at significant risk of becoming victims of identity fraud. For teenagers, it has grave consequences which will impact both future and current activities.
Today’s teens grow up with the Internet, but unfortunately, they do not pay any attention to what they are posting online for everyone else to see. And for identity thieves, they are easier targets than adults as they are unlikely to quickly find out that their identities have been stolen.
Risky Habits of Teens
Teenagers have regular habits that increase their chances of becoming identify theft victims. They overdo sharing on social media and the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) attest to this with almost 1 in 5 teens sharing their full names, pics, date of birth, and contact details. They also post too many photos of themselves that can give clues to thieves such as their school or family address for home schoolers.
Another way where they can become targets of identity theft is by using an unsecured connection such as a public Wi-Fi where personal information can be captured including social security numbers and bank details. A Raytheon study indicated that 66% of teens used an open network during a 1 month period of observation.
Teenagers also use the same passwords for multiple sites making it easier for hackers to access several accounts in one go. What is also alarming is that 34% (FOSI study) of teenagers share passwords with people other than their immediate family.
Although teenagers pretend and even insist that they know the Internet better than adults do, they are often careless and forget to update their anti-virus programs or pay for online games on platforms where credit card details are exposed.
Unfortunately, unawareness of these actions can have serious implications and detrimental effects on the lives of teenagers and even their parents. Hackers who get their hands on the social security number of a teenager can apply for a loan, utility service, or open a bank account and credit card. The end objective is to defraud the victim of money and diminish their credit worthiness by defaulting on payments. Parents and other members of the family can also become victims of identity theft once a hacker has access to their personal info online.
Protecting Your Teens
Sometimes, there might be signs that alert you that someone is committing fraud using your child’s personal information. You might stop receiving government benefits or might be turned down when applying for new ones. Suddenly, you start receiving bills for products and services you did not receive or an IRS letter stating you owe taxes. When this happens, check if your teen has a credit report, contact each credit company. You should also close all the accounts and file a fraud report. Some states in the US allow parents to put a freeze on children’s credit accounts.
As a parent, you can take preventive actions to avoid identity theft by storing sensitive information and documents in a safe place and keeping your valuables out of sight at all times.
It is vital to teach your teenagers correct types of online and offline behavior. If they are old enough to be entrusted with a cell phone, computer or a tablet, then they should be able to understand the implications of sharing personal information.
Teenagers should not overshare information on social media. It is important to apply maximum privacy settings, refrain from sharing portable storage devices and to avoid unsecured Internet sites. They should not visit untrusted websites or divulge personal information. Teaching them to update their passwords regularly and to use combinations that are difficult to guess will help in protecting their details from being intercepted online. Offline, it is essential that teenagers do not share passwords or leave their phones unattended (and unlocked). Anti-virus programs should be up to date and firewalls switched on. By keeping these rules in mind, not only do teenagers protect themselves from identify theft, but also cyberbullying which together are serious forms of fraud and crime with damaging consequences on victims.