theft has taken on a new twist. Teens are now prime targets.
Since the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act in 1998,
the incidence of identity theft crimes has escalated yearly. Today, identity
theft is known as the crime of the 21st century. Perpetrators use stolen
identities to commit credit card, bank, retail account, telecommunications, and
In addition, identity thieves launder money, traffic drugs and smuggle
undocumented immigrants into the country. Perpetrators also present stolen
identities when apprehended for committing crimes, which is how innocent
victims come to have criminal records for crimes they did not commit.
Identity theft has eroded the economy of the United States and threatened the
security of its residents. Victims of stolen identities suffer monumental
consequences. Increasingly, these victims are teens. Parents and teachers can
help protect teens from identity theft.
The costs of this crime are great. According to the Federal Trade Commission,
nearly 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2003. The
estimated cost to consumers was $5 billion and, for businesses, $48 billion
annually. These figures, however, are conservative. They represent
volunteer data and do not include victims who did not participate or report the
crime. In addition, no dollar figure can be assigned to the emotional costs
suffered by victims who discover drained bank accounts or are denied driver
licenses, student loans, credit card accounts or employment.
Regrettably, the burden of proof in identity theft cases is on the victim.
There are many obstacles to resolving these issues, which can take weeks,
months, or even years to rectify. The lengthy process of restoring one's
reputation can be complicated, frustrating and time-consuming. Relationships
with family and friends can suffer, and productivity at home, work and school
deteriorate. Many teens do not know where to go for help. This is where
teachers can make a difference.
Young people aged 18 to 29 years are targeted most by identity thieves. While
research conducted by this author at Michigan State University shows that
financial and health care institutions were the prime sources of stolen
identities in the past, schools are now an additional target for the following
became aware that schools, like financial and health care institutions, use the
Social Security number as the prime identifier.
do not usually use the SSN until the age of 15 when they apply for driver
permits or first jobs, so identity thefts against them may go unnoticed for
are largely unaware of the threats of identity theft, and those who are aware
often fail to protect themselves.
frequent the Internet where they freely and, sometimes unknowingly, provide
personal identifying information.
are known for having an "it can't happen to me" attitude. They also take
greater risks relative to older age groups.
help teachers educate teens about the growing crime of identity theft, Qwest
Communications developed content on its Incredible Internet Web site designed
especially for educators. The Web site makes the following materials, created
for Qwest by this author, available to teachers free of charge:
syllabus with detailed lesson plans and interactive classroom exercises
(adaptable for junior high, high school or college level classes)
presentations on how teens can protect themselves from becoming victimized, how
teens can find out if they've been victimized and what teens should do if ID
manual that includes exams and solutions to crossword puzzles and other
activities designed to pique the interest of students.