Identity theft is more common among kids, teens and college students than any other age group. According to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon study of more than 40,000 children, kids under age 18 were twice as likely as their parents to be victims of identity theft.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Many teens have clean credit reports and unused Social Security numbers. They are likely to share their personal information online and usually aren’t cautious when it comes to protecting their data.
Here are some major missteps and characteristics that can cause teens to experience identity theft.
They Share Personal Information Online
Teens routinely divulge personal information, including their home address, phone number or whereabouts, through online social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These status updates are easily searchable and can lead to an identity thief gathering bits of personal data over time, including a teen's address, phone number or pet’s name, which might just be the answer of a security question for an online banking account.
Online updates about a teen’s whereabouts can also tip off a thief that the individual and his or her family is, say, on a vacation together or at a grandmother’s birthday party. In other words, the thief suddenly knows that the teen’s home is vacant and can be targeted.
They Rarely Check Their Credit Reports
Teens — and their parents — rarely check their credit reports. As a result, identity thieves can go months or years without being suspected. In addition, since teens’ credit reports are usually blank slates, they allow thieves easy access to first-time credit card offers or loans.
They Have Unused Social Security Numbers
Some teens have unused Social Security numbers. These are desirable among identity thieves because an individual can pair them with any name and birthdate. An identity thief can then use or sell the Social Security number so that an illegal immigrant, for example, can obtain a fake ID for employment.
Some Teens Share Banking Info
Teens generally aren’t shy about handing off their credit card number to a friend that is buying group tickets for a baseball game or pre-ordering movie theater passes. This can be problematic if a friend isn’t trustworthy or if someone with ill intentions overhears the exchange of information.
Smartphones Are Frequently Misplaced
Teens use their smartphones to transmit and store troves of personal data. Unfortunately, these devices can be easily lost or stolen and land in the wrong person’s hands.
They Use Public Wi-Fi
When teens use public Wi-Fi, it is easy for an identity thief to obtain personal information that is being transmitted online. Although teens often view themselves as experts in technology, they should be aware of the fact that hackers and other online predators are often even more advanced and can easily snatch their information.
They Use the Same Password for Multiple Sites
When teens don’t use complex passwords for their online sites or use the same password multiple times, it is easy for a thief to access their accounts. The answers to their security questions might also be easy for others to figure out.
Teens Don’t Understand Identity Theft
Teens are often targets for identity theft because the risk of becoming a victim isn’t on their radar. They don’t always understand that their actions are making them vulnerable, and they are unaware of the severe consequences.
Unfortunately, teens don’t fully comprehend the negative impact of identity theft until it is too late. Identity theft can destroy or damage a teen’s ability to qualify for student loans, acquire a cell phone, seek employment or secure a place to live. These teens can face a number of roadblocks during an already challenging time of applying to colleges, trying to land jobs and building credit. These obstacles can take a long time to clear up. In the meantime, teens could lose out on hitting important milestones and landing the opportunities they deserve.