THE BLOG
11/09/2013 08:17 am ET | Updated Feb 13, 2014

Study: Teens Taking Steps to Avoid Identity Theft

You might think that kids and teens don't need to worry about identity theft but that's not the case. It turns out that ID thieves love kids because most have a clean credit record. And often teens won't find out that their identity has been stolen until they apply for their first credit card or a college loan.

That's the bad news. The good news is that teens are starting to get the message that they should guard their identity. A study commissioned by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and conducted by Hart Research Associates, found that the percentage of teens who say they are "very concerned" about their identity being stolen has gone from 43 percent a year ago to 51 percent this year. Just under three quarters (73 percent) agree that "because teens are more likely to have clean credit histories and are less likely to monitor their credit, it is reasonable to think they could be victims of identity theft."

But, when it comes to their own situation, only 29 percent of teens think they they are personally vulnerable to having their identity stolen.

Risky and not-so risky behaviors

Just over a third (34 percent) of teens said that they have shared at least one username and password with someone other than their parents. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) say they have shared it with a friend or significant other.

Password sharing is a particularly risky behavior because it can not only lead to crimes but can result in impersonation such as someone logging onto your social networking account and posting as if they were you.

The study was released at FOSI'a annual convention taking place November 6 and 7 in Washington, DC. The research consisted of two focus groups held in September 2013 and a nationwide online survey conducted in October 2013 among 558 teens ages 13 to 17 who access the Internet.

Kids are posting other information online that isn't particularly risk such as their full name (75 percnt), a photo (69 percent), their date of birth (54 percent), the name of their school (48 percent), and their e-mail address (47 percent). With the possible exception of full date of birth (it's a good idea to leave off the year), none of these types of information constitute high risk, considering the hundreds of millions of people who post this type of information on Facebook and other social networks.

There are some good signs when it comes to teens and privacy. More than three fourths (76 percent) of teens said that they are very or somewhat concerned about the privacy of their personal information while 69 percent have set up one or more devices to auto-lock so that a password or PIN is required to access the device (or maybe a fingerprint if it's an iPhone 5S).

Take aways for teens and parents

It's a good idea to remind teens that they are vulnerable to both financial crimes and an impersonation and that it's important to keep their passwords confidential. Friends can sometimes become ex-friends so even if they trust someone, its a good idea to keep their passwords to themselves. And while teens will of course want to share some information -- and that's OK -- but they need to realize that some data is best kept secret. Have a conversation with your kids but don't make it a lecture. Start by asking what they know about identity theft and if they know how to protect themselves.

Tips from Identity Theft Resource Center

The Identity Theft Resource Center offers tips to prevent ID theft, including:

  • Don't give out your SSN unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment.) Before providing personal identifiers, know how it will be used and if it will be shared.
  • Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of documents with personal information. Also, use a specialized gel pen when writing out checks.
  • Place outgoing mail in collection boxes or the U.S. Post Office.
  • Password protect your financial accounts. A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non alphabetical character. Use of non-dictionary words is also recommended.
  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
  • Use firewall software to protect computer information. Keep virus and spyware software programs updated.

For more on identity theft and other security issues, see A Parents' Guide to Cybersecurity from ConnectSafely.org.