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OVERVIEW
Life stages of identity theft
It can happen to anyone at any stage of life, but the easiest targets are young adults who expose themselves to risks.
Protecting your identity

Risks of ID theft in a lifetime

Identity thieves discriminate to some degree. Anyone -- young or old, rich or poor -- can be a victim, but fraudsters generally prefer the easiest targets.

While most Americans are doing more to protect themselves from identity theft, others allow themselves to be more vulnerable. The greatest risk is to the 25- to 34-year-old age group. The good news is that as we get older, we're less likely to become a victim.

"What we're finding is that once somebody gets past the age of 44, the numbers start going down," says Keith Anderson, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission.

Still, 8.1 million adult Americans last year discovered that ID thieves had breached their personal data and committed one or more crimes against them, according to a February report by Pleasanton, Calif.-based Javelin Strategy & Research.

ID theft risks at various ages
Children
In February, the FTC reported about 5 percent of all identity theft complaints involved victims under 18.

The true number is suspected to be higher when children are involved, but there is just not enough reliable data concerning that age group, the FTC's Keith Anderson says.

Victims' rights advocates say that these cases frequently don't result in prosecution when children are victims because the perpetrators are often the children's parents or caregivers.

"In one case, we saw a young man about 10 or 11 years old who discovered his father had stolen his identity and had run up a $5,000 debt," says Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.

It never occurred to the young victim that his father had committed a crime. Instead of reporting it to the police, the boy selflessly tried to help his father right a wrong.

"This kid's idea of trying to do the right thing was going out to mow lawns to pay back the creditor," Foley says. "He's charging $5 to $10 per lawn -- well you can figure out the rest."

The California case highlights an unfortunate trend when it comes to victims of identity theft. About half of all victims take no legal action whatsoever, according to the Javelin report. The number is likely higher when the victim is a child, although the FTC does not keep records on whether the victim and perpetrator are related.

The highest rate of child identity theft in California comes from children placed in the foster care system, according to Foley. Statistics indicate that a significant percentage of foster children who leave the system at age 18 are victims of identity theft, he says.

The crime can be insidious at this stage of life because oftentimes ID thieves have years to ruin a child's reputation before any damage is discovered.

"One of the cases we dealt with is a young lady who discovered on her 18th birthday that her mom had been stealing her identity for the past eight years," he says. "Here she is, 18 years old, and she's saddled with this horrendous credit history."

Foley says there is a direct correlation between parental drug abuse and identity theft. The problem in the foster care system became so acute that the state of California recently passed a law mandating a credit report check for any child in foster care as soon as they turn 16.

"Somebody who is such a poor parent, where the state has to intercede, probably doesn't care about the child or the child's identity," he says.

Foley advises parents to take action if their child receives unsolicited offers of credit or if they are contacted by debt collectors regarding an account placed in their child's name.

"If a parent believes his or her child has been a victim of identity theft, the parent or court-appointed guardian should request credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion," says Sandi Copes, spokeswoman for the Florida Attorney General's Office.

"This should be done in writing and the parent should request that a fraud alert be placed on the child's credit report in addition to contacting law enforcement," she adds.

-- Posted: May 27, 2008
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