A friend of mine that has the glorious privilege to still be in high school came to me with a question the other day. She received a letter from Certegy, telling her that one of her bank accounts was involved in the massive records scandal. In other words, all of her account information had been sold to direct marketing companies.
Ouch. She wanted to know if she should be concerned, even though the letter said there had been no evidence of fraud or identity theft. But I shared with her a nugget that most of us would rather not face: you should always be concerned with identity theft, even if you think you’re too young, or your financial history is too short (or non-existent).
I didn’t get to see the letter myself, but she told me that it included a suggestion that she check her credit reports on annualcreditreport.com, for fraudulent activity. I seconded this suggestion, and in fact, I offer it as a suggestion to every high school senior, even those who have never received a letter of this sort.
Why should every high school senior check their credit reports? Because about a year from now, you’re probably going to be beginning your real financial life. You might go to college and get student loans. Or you might enter the workforce and get checking accounts, cars loans, apartments, and utilities. And any of these things could be made difficult or literally impossible if your identity has been stolen.
Never Too Young to Have Your Identity Stolen, a recent article in the New York Times, sheds some shocking light on identity theft and minors. The big problem with this particular brand of ID theft is that “people may not even realize they’ve been a victim until they’re adults and they try to get credit.” It’s hard to imagine someone using your Social Security number when you yourself have yet to use it for anything.
But not only is it possible, but it’s a growing problem. “The Federal Trade Commission … received more than 11,600 identity theft reports in 2005 for victims 18 years old or under, nearly double the 6,512 reported in 2003.”
Scared yet? Well, it’s nothing to lose sleep over – just something to keep in the back of your head, and use common sense to protect yourself. The Identity Theft Resource Center has a Teen Space with tips, quizzes, and videos to help you protect yourself, as well.