Talking About Teen Identity Theft

March 9, 2016

It’s National Consumer Protection Week, which makes it a great time to think about the personal information that you and your children share online. One important issue to consider is teen identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that identity theft remains one of the top consumer complaints and teens and children may be at risk due to their clean credit and it may be many years before someone would notice that their information was stolen. While most identity theft occurs from someone stealing personal information from records, data breaches, and bad actors obtaining information, it is also important to focus on not sharing too much personal information online.

Identity Theft is a Top Concern for Parents

A few years ago, the Family Online Safety Institute conducted research around the top concerns of parents and teens when it comes to the Internet. That report, “The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting attitudes and behaviors of parents and teens,” found that identity theft was one of the top online concerns of parents and high on the list for teens. This finding, coupled with information from the Federal Trade Commission about young people being at a high risk for identity theft and countless reports of credit cards, utility bills, and even boats being purchased using the credit of minors, made us want to learn more about the online behaviors of teens and their concerns about the topic.

FOSI decided to further examine the issue and, with support from Google and Symantec, worked with Hart Research Associates in 2013 on a research project, “Teen Identity Theft: Fraud, Security, and Steps Teens Are Taking to Protect Themselves Online.” The research explored concerns about online behavior, what personal information teens share online, and security measures they take. In this report we found that 76% of teens were very or somewhat concerned about the privacy of their personal information being harmed by their online activity. Through our work, we’ve heard a lot about password sharing and our research found that 34% of teens said they shared one of their usernames and passwords with someone other than their parent or guardian. What was particularly interesting was that most participants felt that teenagers could be victims of identity theft, yet only 29% thought it could actually happen to them.

What are some of the things that parents can do to help minimize the risk of teen identity theft?

  • Limit the sharing of personal information. Parents and kids should refrain from sharing too much information online including their full date of birth and home address when possible.
  • Tell your kids not to share their social security numbers online without your permission.
  • Teach your kids to make complex passwords and make sure you do too! Here is some helpful info about creating strong passwords.
  • Discourage your child from sharing usernames and passwords with friends.
  • Review your child’s credit report. Many parents don’t review their child’s credit history until it is time for their child to apply for a credit card, college loan, first apartment, or other activity around age 18. It’s a good idea to check your child’s credit report so you can catch any problems early.
  • Use a credit freeze. Many states have enacted laws to allow parents to freeze their child’s credit. Look into whether this is an option in your state or through one of the credit reporting agencies.
  • Talk to your kids about what they share online and encourage them to do a privacy checkup on their online accounts.
  • Encourage your whole family to take security steps including updating software and setting password locks on devices.

Additional Resources for Preventing Teen Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has useful resources to help parents determine if their child could be a victim of identity theft and steps they can take to help prevent this. The FTC also provides which is a really helpful resource for all victims to report identity theft and work through a recovery plan. The Identity Theft Resource Center also has materials for parents about child identity theft.

We hope that more states will consider allowing parents to use a credit freeze to protect their children and encourage parents to have an ongoing conversation with their kids about limiting the personal information that they share online and practicing good digital hygiene.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Jennifer Hanley

Jennifer Hanley is the Vice President of Legal and Policy for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). Jennifer directs FOSI’s government outreach and policy strategy. Jennifer helps FOSI build relationships with government officials as well as external partnerships and advises leading technology companies on best practices, policy developments, and emerging issues around online safety. Jennifer implements FOSI’s global projects and initiatives and manages the Washington, D.C. staff team. She also leads FOSI’s research work. Jennifer develops policy positions on Internet safety issues including online privacy, mobile safety, cyberbullying, sexting, controversial content, student data privacy, encouraging positive online content for kids, and federal and state legislation and regulations. Jennifer also represents FOSI on panels and in the press.

Jennifer is a magna cum laude graduate of the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, where she served as a Vice Chancellor on the CUA Moot Court Board and as the Vice President of the Communications Law Students Association. Jennifer held legal internships with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, EchoStar, and Comcast. Jennifer graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from the George Washington University where she studied Political Science.