Pay attention to ID theft now, or it could cost you later
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
More than three million people, including nearly 100,000 North Carolinians, recently had their personal information stolen from a Minnesota company that insures student loans. Fortunately, it looks like the data has been recovered without being misused, but this should still serve as a wake-up call for young adults who typically don’t worry much about identity theft.
Unfortunately, everyone needs to be concerned about identity theft, no matter their age. Even children can become victims if their personal information falls into the wrong hands. Young people who are just starting to use credit and handle financial matters may be especially at risk.
According to a recent survey by a California research firm, people ages 18-24 are more likely to be harmed by identity theft because they don’t tend to monitor their finances closely and are slower to spot fraud. The longer it takes you to figure out you’ve been hit by an ID thief, the more damage that thief can do—damage that will cost you time and money to repair.
People in their late teens and twenties also tend to be active users of the Internet. More than ninety percent of young adults ages 18-29 are online, compared to seventy-five percent of all adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. If you spend a lot of time online, shopping or sharing information through social networking sites, you need to take extra precautions to protect your personal information.
Here are some identity theft tips that can be helpful at any age, but particularly for young adults:
- Check your account statements regularly. If you see any activity you don’t recognize, contact your bank or credit card company right away. Catching suspicious activity early can prevent larger problems down the road.
- Keep an eye on your credit report. Even if you haven’t established much of a credit history yet, it’s still important to check your credit report regularly. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each nationwide credit bureau. To get your free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Get free security freezes. Security freezes are the ultimate in ID theft protection because they prevent anyone from opening new credit in your name. North Carolinians can request free security freezes by visiting the three major credit bureaus’ secure websites.
- Opt out of pre-approved credit offers. This is especially important if you move frequently. An ID thief can use a credit card offer to open an account and ring up charges in your name. Call 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5-OPT-OUT) or opt out online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Guard your gadgets. Create a password to keep others from being able to access files and other personal financial information that may be stored on your cell phone or laptop. Keep anti-virus and spyware software updated.
- Shop safely online. Shop at familiar websites and research unknown sellers. Find out the seller’s physical location and contact information in case you have problems with the product. Make sure the website is secure before you place your order (look for https in the address), and use one low limit credit card for online purchases to limit your liability if your information gets stolen.
- Verify online sellers. If you’re buying something from an individual online, ask for the seller’s name, street address, telephone number, and email address and verify what they tell you. If they won’t give you this information, don’t buy from them.
- Sign out of applications and websites that may store your personal information, such as Facebook, online banking and shopping sites, and email.
- Set privacy settings on social networking sites. Avoid sharing personal details such as your entire birth date, your mother’s maiden name and your pet’s name, and keep your mobile and home phone numbers, email address, and home address private.
- Don’t fall for phishing. If you get an email or text message asking for your personal financial information, don’t answer it, even if the message claims to come from your bank or another company you know. Legitimate companies with which you do business will not ask for your personal information this way.