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Identity theft: what they know can hurt you.


Students should understand

* how personal information can be obtained and illegally used, and how to avoid becoming an identity-theft victim.


Tear up or shred papers containing personal info before putting them in the trash, even at home. * Don't enter personal information on the Net unless you are on a secure page. (When you go to a secure page, the site's URL changes from http to https; most browsers also show a shut padlock or similar icon in the status bar.) * Don't use a birthday, pet's name, or other easy-to-guess word as a password or PIN (personal identification number). A combination of capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters (such as #, *, %) is hardest to guess. * Don't use the "save password" option for sites with your personal information.


COMPREHENSION: Why is there such a big difference in the number of identity-theft complaints by people under the age of 18 and those ages 18 to 29? (Kids rarely use their Social Security numbers until they are old enough to apply for a job or a bank loan.)

CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why do you think identity thieves who are caught are unlikely to pay back what they stole? (They have probably spent all the money; other answers possible.)


AVOIDING TROUBLE: Have students role-play some of the situations in which identity thieves try to steal information. For instance, one student might play a scammer on the telephone or at the door, while another plays an average kid being scammed. Have the rest of the class offer advice on how to deal with the situation. Then discuss: Which scammer tricks are likely to work best with kids? Why?



* Individual development and identity: Understanding the importance of personal information, and how revealing such information can harm oneself, one's family, and/or friends.

* Science, technology, and society: How the Internet has increased the variety of ways scam artists can take advantage of people.



* Bercowetz, Cynthia, Don't Get Ripped Off! A Consumer Survival Guide (Infinity Publishing, 2004). Grades 6-12.

* Wolinsky, Art, Safe Surfing on the Internet (Enslow Publishers, 2003). Grades 6-8.


* About phishing

* ID Theft: Federal Trade Commission

They are out there, and they are looking for you. They know that kids spend a let of time on the Internet and the phone. They also know that when your mind is on your IMs, text messages, and phone conversations with friends, you aren't thinking about who else might be watching and listening. The offenders listed at left are just a few of the kinds of crooks who would love to know you better.

If you think that you aren't giving away anything important, think again. Identity thieves may know more than you realize. With your unsuspecting help, they can learn even more. Your Social Security number (SSN) and a few other key facts are all a thief needs to steal your good name--and leave you stuck with a criminal record or staggering debts.

That is what happened to Zach Friesen. At 17, he applied for a job. The prospective (expected or likely) employer did a credit check. Only then did Zach find out that he was tens of thousands of dollars in debt. When Zach was only 7, someone using his identity had bought a $40,000 houseboat, among other things. Zach himself was innocent of wrongdoing, but his record made him look irresponsible, even criminal. The long-gone thief was never caught.

Are You the Only You?

In 2005, more than 245,000 cases of identity theft were reported to law-enforcement agencies. More than 11,000 of those victims were younger than 18. The actual number of young victims is much higher, because many won't know what happened to them for years to come.

Kids make great targets because the younger the victim, the more time the thief is likely to have before anyone becomes suspicious. Kids get an SSN at birth but rarely use it until applying for a job at 16 or college at 18. Only then--like Zach Friesen--do they discover problems.

That is why so many ID thefts are being reported by people aged 18 to 29 (see graph). For many of those victims, someone had been misusing their identity for years--in some cases, a decade or more.

Strangers are not the only people who saddle kids with debt. "More frequently, it is a family member who has stolen a kid's identity," Linda Foley told JS. Foley is executive director and co-founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). "I know of an 8-year-old girl who told her mother that she had seen her father with a credit card in her name," said Foley. "The mother said, 'Oh, it must have been your library card.' When the girl was 11, she found a bill in her name. That convinced her mother." But by then, the girl's record was burdened with three years' worth of debt.

Foley and her husband founded the ITRC to help victims of the painful crime. Two years earlier, in 1997, Foley's identity was stolen, she says, "by someone I considered a friend." Posing as Foley, the woman applied for a cell-phone account and three credit cards. Unlike Zach Friesen's thief, Foley's was caught, convicted, and sent to prison. Catching ID thieves, though, is no guarantee that they will pay back what is owed--even if so ordered by a court.

Be a Crime Buster

You can do a lot to protect yourself and your family--from ID theft. Remember our DOs and DON'Ts!

Beware ...

* Dumpster divers look through trash for private information that can be used illegally.

* Pharmers break into a Web site's systems and change its Web address coding so that someone typing in a real URL gets sent to another site instead.

* Phishers send e-mails claiming to be from your bank, Internet service provider (ISP), phone company, or other service, asking you to "verify" or "update" account information.

* Pretexters get personal information by pretending to be someone else, such as bank officials, survey takers, or utility workers.

* Shoulder surfers steal passwords and account numbers by watching people enter them at ATMs and debit card swipers, touch or say them into phones, or type them into public computers.

* Web crawlers are software that scan Web sites to find e-mail addresses that phishers can use.


* DO keep personal information private. "Remember: You do not know who is reading your blogs or personal profiles online," said Foley. "They are strangers-and may not be who they say they are."

* DON'T download "free" software or open e-mail attachments from unreliable sources. They could install spyware or Web crawlers on your computer.

* DO be suspicious if bills or "proapproved" credit-card offers arrive in your name. Ask a parent or other responsible adult to make Sure that someone hasn't set up accounts in your name.

* DON'T ever give anyone credit-card or bank-account information over the telephone, unless your parents have authorized it.

* DO leave your Social Security card at home--and, said Foley, "Never give out your SSN or that of any family member."

* DON'T get caught off guard! Find out how else you can protect yourself and loved ones. Visit and
Identity Theft Complaints
by Victim Age, 2005

Under 18 5%
18-29 29%
30-39 24%
40-49 20%
50-59 13%
60 and over 9%

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Note: Table made from bar graph.


* Decide whether each sentence is true, false, or an opinion. Write your answer on the blank line provided.

-- 1. Kids should not be assigned Social Security numbers until they are old enough to work a full-time job.

-- 2. Blogs are safe places to share personal information with friends.

-- 3. Laws against identity theft need to be strictly enforced.

-- 4. The greatest percentage of people reporting identity theft are ages 18 to 29.

-- 5. When kids are victims of identity theft, the person responsible is rarely a family member.


1. opinion

2. false

3. opinion

4. true

5. false
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Article Details
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Author:Wilmore, Kathy
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 6, 2006
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