Please note: This is an update to an article previously published by Equifax in February 2014.
Although today’s teens have grown up with the internet, they do not always protect their personal information while they are online. As a result, they may be at a high risk of identity theft.
Unlike adults, who may monitor their personal and credit information and find out more quickly if their identity has been stolen, teens are rarely on top of their own finances and don’t often monitor their credit or identity. A teen’s credit history is usually clean, so criminals can easily apply for first-time cards or home loans, and victims might not discover that their information is being misused until they apply for student loans.
These 10 habits regularly put teens at risk of identity theft:
1. Sharing personal information on social media sites. Many websites ask for personal information such as home addresses, date of birth, school name and email address – and some of that information may be public to visitors of a profile page, depending on a user’s privacy settings. No matter what social network a teen prefers — Snapchat®, Instagram® and Twitter® are all popular choices — once information is made public, there is potential for harm.
2. Sharing media devices. Unlike an older generation, younger teens may be more likely to share portable storage devices such as thumb drives with others without thinking of the risks involved. Teens are also at risk when they share their smartphones and tablets.
3. Using public WiFi and location services in apps. Teens may assume they know more about technology than others and bypass warnings to access unprotected WiFi networks. In addition, teens may be less likely to worry about which apps have access to their location.
4. Using the same password for multiple sites. Both teens and adults may use the same password for multiple sites, including email, banking, and social media sites. If a hacker gets access to one password, all of the accounts could be breached.
5. Sharing passwords. This tip may seem obvious, but as with sharing devices, teens don’t have the same fears as adults. A study from the Pew Research Center shows 19 percent of teens, or nearly 1 in 5, has shared a password with a friend. Among teens who use two or more social media sites, 23 percent report sharing a password.
6. Leaving a phone or computer unlocked. Protecting mobile devices with strong passwords can prevent others from looking through them if they’re lost or stolen. It’s also important for teens, no matter where they live, to limit the amount of personal information stored on a cell phone or mobile device in case the device falls into the wrong hands.
7. Not updating anti-virus programs. Too often, teens ignore malware warnings until it is too late. They may know what an antivirus program is but they don’t necessarily have the clearance on a home computer to install the upgrades. Parents should stay aware of the security settings on laptops and desktops.
8. Posting images with too much information. Facebook use is waning among teens, but the Pew Research Center finds about half of teens use Instagram – a photo-only social network – and nearly as many use Snapchat, an app where users send videos and pictures that disappear shortly after being viewed. Depending on a user’s settings, these photos can show when and where they are taken.
9. Paying for online games. Online games may request personal information and payment through credit cards. This could put both parents and teens at risk if a teen is entering information into unsecured websites.
10. Throwing away sensitive documents. Along with everyone else, teens need to be aware of how they handle documents that contain their personal information. If important documents need to be disposed of, they should be cross-shredded before they are thrown away.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.