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4 ways to protect teens from ID theft

Teens can be easy targets for fraudsters.

Scammers seek out teens because teens have clean records and no established credit reports. Teens are also avid social network and Internet users, where personal data are more readily available.

The result is that teens make up 6 percent of identity theft cases reported every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

ID theft happens when a fraudster uses your personal information -- such as a Social Security, credit card or bank account number -- to purchase goods and services.

Unfortunately, teens usually don't find out about ID theft scams until they apply for a driver's license or get a credit card. By then, the damage is already done, says Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based personal security expert. Identity thieves may have already racked up thousands in debt under the teen's name.

Later, teens may have difficulty getting a student loan, credit cards and even jobs, because employers are now checking credit reports of prospective employees, he says.

Siciliano says that's why explaining the risks and pitfalls of a digital lifestyle is very important. That means their best defense is probably you -- their parent. Here are some ways to help protect your teen from ID theft.

Educate, educate, educate. One problem is that teens typically don't check their bank accounts, says Sedgrid Lewis, founder of Atlanta-based Spy Parent LLC. So they're the perfect targets, he says.

In countering that, Adam Levin, chairman of ID theft solutions site IDT911.com, says parents should stress that teens should exercise control over these assets, since their management can lead to financial gain, and lack of control can lead to financial pain. Your financial identity, created throughout your life as you save, spend and invest, can be seriously damaged by ID theft.

An identity thief can steal your Social Security number and use it to get a credit card, racking up charges, ruining your credit score and increasing your borrowing costs, if you even can borrow money after your credit is ruined.

Tell your child: Every dollar paid for having a low credit score is one you could have invested instead, Levin says. "It's important to play a parental role because teens aren't so concerned about providing information," he says.

Begin by educating teens on digital behavior because they spend money online or take online quizzes, making them more susceptible to fraud, Levin says. Tell your teen to look for secure sites signified by a golden lock or only go to big sites such as Amazon or eBay. The golden lock signifies a high level of security in which your data are encrypted, so others can't read it.

Also, warn teens about taking online quizzes or surveys promising free stuff, Levin says. Their purpose is to find out personal information, such as a teen's favorite color or mother's maiden name, so fraudsters can answer security questions that unlock their identity. "Some of them are actually sponsored by the bad guys," he says.

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