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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection The Resource Center | article

Teaching Teens About Identity Theft

New programs are teaching teenagers how their online behavior can invite identity theft.Those of us who remember life before the Internet often have different views of privacy than today’s youth. There was a time when information about your private life was not posted across a series of social media sites. Only you could decide who would get your home address or phone number — and if you really wanted to remain anonymous, you could always remove your listing from the phone book.

But times have changed. Teenagers have grown up surrounded by technology and the Internet, and an increasing number of them cannot imagine a world in which they are not in constant contact with their friends and family members — not to mention a fair number of acquaintances and strangers. They have fewer qualms about posting personal information on social media, because to them it has practically become second-nature to make this sort of thing public.

Teenagers have few financial responsibilities, and don’t pay much attention to the budding state of their credit. They don’t realize how much risk they might face if a thief acquired and misused their personal information. They have not yet begun to think about how it might affect them down the road, or what they might have to do to protect themselves as they get older.

It’s a conversation that needs to happen now.

Writing for Credit.com, contributor Adam Levin made an excellent point about identity theft that is worth repeating. When asked who the public should blame for the rise of identity theft and tax fraud, Levin considered blaming the thieves themselves, or the government for failing to keep tax records secure. Instead, he concluded that we are all to blame.

“When it comes to any identity-related crime, the buck stops with you and me, because we’re the only ones who can know what’s what in time to stop from getting hurt, or at least to move quickly enough to contain the damage,” Levin wrote.

This is the thinking behind new programs meant to teach young teenagers the consequences of their online behavior. In response to a Carnegie Mellon study that found that teens between the ages of 15-18 are twice as likely as their parents to become victims of identity theft, schools in Utah are trying to teach students how to protect their credit.

Utah schools are teaching them why it can be risky to post their birthday, the name of their school, or their phone number. Though this information may seem innocuous, in the wrong hands it could be used to guess passwords or even gain access to Social Security Numbers.

Part of the reason why teens are such ripe targets for identity theft is because, lacking credit cards, they almost never check their credit reports. This means that a thief could open a series of accounts in their name without them even knowing. By that time, it could be difficult to fix the damage, since credit reports are necessary for auto loans, student loans or apartment rentals.

It’s important for young people to learn these habits now, so that years down the road they will know how to monitor their credit for potential instances of theft.

For additional protection, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud. With that information, you’ll know whether you have to obtain a credit freeze.

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