Anglorama nr 2/2005 (30)
Teen Identity Theft a Growing Concern
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Identity theft is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of information such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers to obtain credit, merchandise and services in the name of his or her victim.
“Young people under the age of 29 years old have become the number one demographic target for identity thieves,” Betsy Broder of the Federal Trade Commission said at a recent summit on teen ID theft sponsored by Qwest Communications. “Young people comprise an estimated 31 percent of the some 10 million identity thefts annually throughout the country.”
Broder said the first time many teenagers discover their identification has been stolen is when they apply for a driver’s license or credit card and discover someone else has been using their name and Social Security number.
Concerned that teenagers are often overlooked by organizations that educate the public on identity theft, Qwest Communications recently sponsored a one-day summit in Denver devoted exclusively to the problem of teenage identity theft.
The first-of-its-kind summit brought together influential members from business, government, academia and the media to identify the problems young people face with respect to identity theft and develop initiatives to help protect them.
Broder, who is assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Planning and Information, and a panel of other experts noted that identity theft is one of the fastest growing financial crimes in the United States, costing businesses some $48 billion a year in losses and an estimated $5 billion in losses to consumers. They urged businesses, schools and others to help educate young people on how to protect themselves against becoming the primary target of identity thieves.
With little knowledge of financial transactions or credit reports, teenagers and young people are particularly vulnerable to identity theft. Identity thefts can occur before a teenager even reaches the age of 18, the time when most minors are eligible to enter into contracts and apply for credit cards.
“Identity theft is affecting teens the same way it affects adults,” says Diane Terry, senior director of fraud victim assistance at the national credit bureau, TransUnion. “The main difference is that teenagers are often less educated about the warning signs that suggest they may be victims. We really need more focused education to reach teens.”
Terry and others note that it can be an exceptionally traumatic experience for anyone to discover their identity has been stolen, but that it is particularly painful for young people.
“It feels like you have no control over your life,” says Rhea Takara of San Diego, Calif., whose estranged father stole her identity when she was 18 years old and forged her name on credit card receipts and established business accounts using her personal information. “Lots of people don’t even want to talk about it because the theft often involves a relative or someone they know. It was very hard for me to be betrayed by a parent.”
In addition to relatives, roommates and other acquaintances, law enforcement officials say domestic drug rings and Eastern European gangs are heavily into identity theft and credit card fraud. Young methamphetamine addicts are particularly drawn to identity theft as an easy way to create and use counterfeit checks to support their drug use. According to officials, they steal identity information from the mail, their employers and fellow employees, car break-ins, burglaries and through dumpster-diving.
The Internet has become an appealing place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card information, particularly from young people who are the biggest users of the Web. Thieves often attempt to get identity information through chat rooms or by enticing people to divulge personal information through specially designed Web sites or pop-up windows that pose as legitimate commercial sites.
The experts say teens need to understand that identity theft is a serious crime that demands a response. There is no need to become paranoid or stop using the Internet, but the experts suggest teens be extremely cautious about divulging sensitive personal information to anyone, particularly when it involves unsolicited requests.
Other tips to help teenagers and young people prevent identity fraud include:
- Don’t be intimidated. Tell adults (e.g. coaches, teachers and employers) who ask for Social Security, driver’s license and credit card numbers that you want to know how they’ll use it and how they’ll protect it from identity theft.
- Guard your personal information. It’s valuable, so password-protect your laptops, wireless phones, pagers and MP3 players and don’t store personal identification information on these and other devices. Carefully destroy papers you throw out -- using a cross-cut shredder if possible – that contain personal identifying information.
- Check yourself out. When you turn 16, frequently check bank and credit card statements for irregularities and ask for help on how to monitor your credit reports at least once a year.
Experts at the Qwest Summit urged businesses to partner with local schools, law enforcement agencies, consumer groups and others in promoting information campaigns for teens and young people on the dangers of identity theft.
The experts also noted that businesses and other organizations that fail to take reasonable precautions to protect their own employees and customers from identity theft are leaving themselves open to lawsuits from consumer action attorneys acting on behalf of the victims.
They recommend all businesses -- not just financial institutions -- conduct a thorough review of how they acquire, distribute and dispose of sensitive personal information.
Some questions businesses should ask themselves about identity theft, include:
- Do we really need the information we are asking for -- such as Social Security numbers -- and, if so, are we acquiring it in a safe manner?
- What computer security measures have we placed around the systems storing personal data?
- Who has access to sensitive personal information from employees and customers and have they gone through a background check?
- Are documents containing personal information shredded or rendered unreadable before disposal in office trash containers and company dumpsters?
- Do we provide our employees (and customers) with a secure place to store their purses and laptops containing personal information?
imposter – uzurpator, oszust
to obtain – opzyskać, wejść w posiadanie
summit – szczyt
to comprise – stanowić, obejmować
apply – zgłaszać się, składać podanie
overlooked – opminięte
minor – niepełnoletni
to be eligible – być uprawnionym do czegoś
fraud – oszustwo
estranged – nie mieszkający z rodziną