October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Although many teens may not think about the personal information they are sharing on the Internet daily they are actually more at risk for identity theft than an adult. A 2011 joint industry-academic examination of 40,000 children who were caught in a data breach found that children were 51 percent more likely than adults to have their identity stolen.
Children are targeted for identity theft because of the value of an unused Social Security number. Identity thieves can use a teen’s Social Security number and personal information to obtain credit, open a bank account, get a tax refund, or even rent a place to live. Teens might not know anything is wrong until they apply for a loan (including student loans), insurance, or try to rent their first apartment.
No matter how careful teens are online, it is still possible that someone closer to home is using their identity to secure credit without their knowledge.
Ann Endicott, an HSFPP instructor in Mississippi, was shocked when a guest speaker asked her high school students how many of them have a bad credit rating. “Many hands were raised in response,” she says, “I was shocked. Most of the teens were not even old enough to have a personal checking account. Their parents had used their social security number and got them into financial problems.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that teens check whether or not they have a credit report near their 16th birthday. Typically minors should not have an existing credit file until they start using credit after they turn 18. If a file exists—and it has errors due to fraud or misuse—teens will have time to correct it before they need to use their credit.
HFSPP provides two related lessons that can be used at any time without any prerequisite knowledge: