Editorial Policy

Steps to protect young adults from identity theft

Erica Sandberg

August 22, 2014

QHi Erica,

My daughter is turning 18 next year. There is all of this press about kids' identities getting stolen. Is there something I should be doing to make sure her credit is OK? –Stephen

ADear Stephen,

I'm glad that you're concerned about your daughter's personal finances, as it indicates that you're a caring father. Everyone should be aware of identity theft issues so they can take action to prevent it from happening — and if it occurs, how to undo the damage it can cause. For her to remain as safe as possible, talk about the following common dangers that lurk, and discuss protective measures.Ask Erica

Because identity theft is a constantly mutating crime, though, it's hard to keep up with exactly what you ought to do. In past years, there were reports of dumpster divers rooting around in trashcans for documents they could use to apply for credit in victims' names. The antidote to that was investing in a shredder, then destroying unneeded banking correspondence.

What do you need to warn your child about today? While that low tech crime still exists, she also needs to know about data breaches. This crime is usually committed via a retailers' point of sale system — the device a shopper uses to swipe a debit or credit card at checkout.

When data breaches occur, cardholders who used their plastic at compromised stores may have exposed their cards' account numbers, (and sometimes other stored data, such as email and home addresses) to a particularly creepy criminal element. When those thugs get that information, they may sell it to those who will open fraudulent cards and loans or use existing credit accounts.

Tell your daughter about this new wave, and have her check her banking statements and credit cards weekly and credit reports annually for anything that doesn't look right. She can pull her credit reports once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Thankfully the law is on the side of the consumer: As long as she reports evidence of fraud quickly, she won't be responsible for unauthorized charges.

Just as vital to convey is that not all identify theft is committed by strangers. If your daughter leaves her wallet out on her dorm room dresser, for instance, a fellow student can easily steal it and do what the nefarious underground can do. Or, if she's the trusting type, she may even give her card to someone to pay for a pizza or to withdraw money out of the ATM. That person may then decide to take a bit for herself while she's at it.

Urge your daughter to keep all forms of plastic private and protected from friend and foe alike. And if she suspects anything or anyone, she should come to you for assistance. You can help with filing police reports, contacting her financial institutions, and dealing with the credit reporting agencies with disputes.

This is a great teachable moment for you and your daughter. Arm her with the information she needs to protect her identity for years to come.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.