Imagine finding hundreds or thousands of dollars in charges on your bank account from things you never purchased, then discovering that you’re unable to get a job, a student loan, or car loan because a line of bad credit was opened in your name. Even worse, you now have a criminal record in your name. These are the types of things that can happen if your identity is stolen.
You might think that isn’t likely to happen to you, but think again.
Sometimes, youth isn’t an advantage
Numbers on identity theft more specific to teens and young adults can be found in a Federal Trade Commission report that found 6 percent of all identity theft victims are under age 20, while those between 20 and 29 make up 21 percent of victims. The combined rate for people under 30 years of age is 27 percent, while the combined rate for seniors 60 and older is 19 percent.
Many people don’t realize that what you write or upload online is public, said Linda Foley, co-founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). “Anything written in public, you might as well shout it from the street,” she said.
That includes your name, address, and phone number when you sign up for anything online, and anything written in a blog.
“Many people write something in their blog when they’re 17, and when they’re 24 it comes back to haunt them,” Foley said. “Blogs are public, and people check them. If you don’t want people to know something, don’t write it.”
Clean credit slate, inexperience are the draw
Students and young adults are most often targeted because they have less credit history than older adults and therefore less bad credit history. Thieves have a better chance of opening a line of credit using the name of someone with a cleaner record.
And young students are extremely vulnerable because they are “newly entering the world of credit and finance,” Foley said, adding that they don’t know when it is inappropriate to give out their social security number and have not developed as much skepticism as “us old folks.”
But the biggest risk they have, Foley said, is the Internet. When chatting online, you don’t really know who you’re talking to. And scammers can also get at you through email frauds and pop-ups through “phishing.” They lure personal and financial information like your credit card number, social security number, birthday or hometown from you.
Often, you will receive an email that will ask you to confirm your identification by entering it onto a website. “But if you look at the URL,” Foley said, “It’s not really that company’s website and it’s often not even from the U.S. You have to be worried about that.”
Watch out for so-called ‘friendly fraud’
You also should be worried about people around you. “Even around roommates, be careful your personal information isn’t exposed,” Foley said.
But what if it happens to you? Immediately, call the three major credit bureaus—Trans Union, Experian and Equifax—and report your identity stolen. Then contact the police and close all your bank accounts and credit cards. Even if you manage to catch the thief, the damage doesn’t disappear right away. For some, it took up to five years.
Most important, Foley said, is to be aware of the risks—especially as a young student. You can’t be too safe with your own identity.