Growing target for identity thieves: kids
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Over half of all personal information security breaches are at universities, experts say. Nearly half of all college students have had their grades posted by Social Security number, according to the US Department of Education. The practice sometimes leads to incidents such as one last year at the University of Mississippi, where 700 students' Social Security numbers were listed alongside their names on an open website.Skip to next paragraph
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Many students don't realize that they can tell college administrators not to post or otherwise give out their personal information. "[Young people] are more likely to say, 'I have to trust them when they ask me to give out this information; they're an authority figure,' " Friesen says.
Casual attitudes about information sharing over the Internet also put teens at risk. Social network websites like Facebook.com, Friendster.com, and MySpace.com let students not only post their favorite music and relationship status, but also their addresses, cellphone numbers, and previous employers - information that could be used to create a credit account in their names. "I have a Facebook account," Friesen says. "You can put information out as long as you know what you can give out and what information you absolutely can't."
While legislation in some states allows consumers to freeze credit reports and requires companies to notify people if their personal data could be at risk, few laws specifically address child or teen identity theft. The ITRC, says Foley, is working with US Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington on a bill that would help credit issuers find out whether a Social Security number on any transaction belongs to a minor.
"ID theft is the crime that this generation is going to have as part of their life, for most of their life," Foley says, "but teens and parents can learn to take care of themselves and treat their information as the most valuable thing they have."
• Only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary - generally for tax purposes. For job applications, drivers licenses, and school identification, your SSN is not usually required. Ask adults who ask for this information why they need it and how they will protect it.
• Protect your cellphone, laptop, and PDA with a password. Don't store personal information on these electronic devices. Shred any papers with personal data before disposing of them.
• Create effective passwords. Ideally, they should contain upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters (!, $, &, etc.)
• Check your credit report with one of the three major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) at least once a year. By law, you are entitled to one free report yearly. You can find them online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
• If you're too young to have a credit card, or don't have one already, be alert to any unsolicited credit-card offers in the mail addressed to you. The only way you should receive them is if you have a credit history.
• Always check your bank and credit-card statements for any irregularities.
• Educate yourself about "phishing" and "pharming" e-mails; some are very sophisticated.