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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
Young families
Newlyweds just starting out generally have positive outlooks, believing that the best days are ahead of them. But if their credit card or bank account information were filched somehow, they may face tough times ahead instead.

More than 77 percent of those in the 25- to 34-year-old age group are concerned about having their identities stolen, and the area of most concern is the safety of their personal information on the Internet. Nearly 56 percent in this age group expressed concern about online security, according to Bankrate's recent poll.

Often young families are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have much money saved. If they think they can clear their good names with a simple call to their creditors and bank, they're often mistaken.

If an ID thief gets a person's checks or debit card and drains his bank account, he generally has 48 hours to report the fraud. After that brief window, the person's on the hook for $500. If he doesn't report fraud within 60 days, his liability is unlimited.

Most banks will credit your money back within a few business days after confirming the fraud through an investigation. Bank of America and Wachovia representatives say their customers have up to 60 days to report fraud, but it's always wise to check a bank's specific policy.

Although many banks won't hold customers liable for monetary damages, some victims still wind up paying several hundred dollars in legal fees and expenses to clear their names.

The Javelin report indicates a strong correlation between detection time and consumer costs in all cases of fraud. Generally, the longer the fraud goes undetected, the more the victim pays out of pocket.

A 2006 FTC report concluded that more than 50 percent of identity theft victims incurred no out-of-pocket expenses, but the top 10 percent incurred expenses of at least $3,000 and the top 5 percent reported expenses of $5,000 or more.

If an identity thief has enough time to damage your credit report, your insurance rates could go up and your credit limits could go down -- two things that could put a dent in a family's household budget.

"When I was 25 and starting to raise a family, I didn't have a lot of spare time and I didn't have a lot of spare cash," Foley says. "To have someone come in and put me behind the eight ball with identity theft would have been devastating."

Identity theft may force a family to make lifestyle changes, such as cutting down on dining out and buying household goods, while they are clearing their name.

If thieves get a hold of your driver's license and get one or more unpaid tickets in your name, your license could be suspended, unbeknownst to you.

Things could get a lot worse if an identity thief commits a crime and gives the police your identification.

"If there are failures to appear (in court) or warrants for a victim's arrest, they can be detained until proof of the identity theft case is provided to authorities," says Sandi Copes, spokeswoman for the Florida Attorney General's Office.

"These are all things that young couples starting out, who don't have a lot of money coming in, really can't afford," says Foley.

-- Posted: May 27, 2008
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