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Experts: Social media use puts young people at risk for ID theft

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GLENDALE – Having only a debit card, Jagar Carrillo said he didn’t realize that as an adult under 30 he’s part of a group that accounts for a quarter of all identity theft victims.

A recent identity-theft seminar for students at Arizona State University’s West Campus left him concerned about social media use and other factors that can make younger people targets. He planned to check his credit score immediately.

“All that information is what they use to get a credit card under your name, and so it really puts you at risk,” Carrillo said.

People younger than 30 accounted for 27 percent of identity theft complaints nationally in 2012, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network report.

Kathleen Winn, director of the Community Outreach & Education Division in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, points to information that young people give out on social media websites. For example, a photo or check-in showing that someone isn’t home can tip thieves looking to steal documents needed for identity theft, she said.

“All the different places that young people communicate, they make themselves vulnerable to those that are professionals in finding out about people and using it,” she said.

Eva Casey-Velasquez, president and CEO of the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing identity theft, said young people don’t have the same perspective as older people when sharing information online.

Sharing a photograph of a driver’s license is obviously a bad idea, she said, but photos naming pets and identifying connections to parents and grandparents can tip thieves to passwords and security questions.

“They just don’t think about privacy issues,” Casey-Velasquez said. “It’s become so ubiquitous to share every aspect of your life.”

Winn said software that reveals a person’s location and tagging others in photos can also put friends and family at risk for identity theft.

“Thieves don’t care who they access,” she said.

Beyond social media use, Winn said, younger people are often more susceptible to phishing scams seeking personal information through fake emails because they are often new to checking accounts. Providing information to get a fake ID increases the risk of identity theft as well.

“There’s actually brokers out there that take information when they create the fake ID and get your real information and use that against you also,” she said.

Winn recommended that people be discreet about social media postings and to not friend strangers.

Casey-Velasquez said people should protect their passwords and not use the same password across multiple platforms, adding that people should also handle personal information with care and shred documents.

Both recommended checking credit reports.

Even with so much information available on how to avoid identity theft, “youthful hubris” often prevents young people from thinking that they could become victims of identity theft, Casey-Velasquez said.

“It’s very hard to change that behavior until you feel a direct consequence,” she said.