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Young adults slow to spot ID theft, survey shows

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Despite their Web savvy, young adults are slow to spot identity theft online, according to the Javelin Strategy & Research identity fraud survey released Wednesday.

Javelin study

In the annual Identity Fraud Survey Report, now in its seventh year, Javelin found that identity theft involving young adults typically go undetected for longer than fraud targeting older consumers. The survey showed that compared to other age groups, so-called millennials -- consumers age 18 to 24 -- take nearly twice as many days to detect fraud, leaving young adults fraud victims for longer periods.

Identity theft experts say the data highlights an unusual paradox about young adults. "It's sort of counterintuitive. They are online all the time. What they're not online doing is monitoring their credit cards and bank accounts," says Anne Wallace, president of the nonprofit Identity Theft Assistance Corporation (ITAC), which co-sponsored the survey. "That seems to be part of why they're not discovering [ID theft] as fast as other age groups."

Wallace says that although millennials don't tend to victimized by fraudsters as often as other age groups, they still have ample reason to take the survey's findings to heart.

Invincible? No, vulnerable
While they may be wise about the World Wide Web, experts say that young people still have a lot to learn about the world's wicked ways. That lack of experience keeps them from taking the precautions necessary to frustrate fraudsters.  

"I'd speculate that it's a feeling of not being vulnerable -- that they're still relatively innocent about the risks" of identity theft, says Wallace. She adds that millennials may believe that since they don't have a lot of money in the bank they aren't likely to be victimized. "But if somebody withdraws $100 from your savings account, that can have a devastating impact," she says.

MILLENNIALS SLOW TO FIND ID THEFT
Those 18 to 24 years old, despite their Web savvy, are slower to discover ID theft -- and pay for it, a Javelin Strategy & Research study finds.
  Millenial ID theft victims All ID theft victims
Time to detect fraud
132 days
59 days
Cost of fraud
$1,156 $234

That same group of young people is also most likely to be online. Akamai's State of the Internet report for the third quarter of 2009 shows that people between the ages of 18 and 29 use the Internet the most, with 93 percent of that age group going online. That makes it a group that is comfortable on the Internet -- maybe too comfortable. "Younger people have a bigger comfort zone with regards to personal information, and that leads them to sometimes being unwise about the types of info on their Facebook pages," Wallace says.

ID theft tips for millennials
Rather than waiting the years it takes to develop a more world-wise attitude, millennials can take action to better guard their data:

Adjust your privacy settings. Facebook and other online sites offer privacy settings to restrict who gets to see personal information. Wallace says that young people need to familiarize themselves with these settings and use them to filter their data. She recommends that people ask themselves a key question: "Is this information I want everybody to know -- or only a much smaller group of people?"

Guard your data. Because young people often live in dorms or shared housing, they have to be vigilant about keeping their data (including Social Security and PIN numbers) out of the hands of less-than-trustworthy housemates or acquaintances. "It may seem like an obvious point, but don't give your roommate your PIN number," Wallace says.

Visit your bank's Web site. With banks and credit card issuers offering free account access online, young people have no reason not to surf over to check on their accounts. "When you monitor electronically, you will find the theft faster," says Wallace. "Faster detection translates directly into lower costs and less anxiety."

Protect your gadgets. In many cases, fraudsters are pretty Web-savvy themselves. And while young people may not fall victim to phishing and other more basic online scams, they still need to guard their computers and other gadgets. Installing firewalls and software to protect a computer against spyware and viruses can also help to safeguard personal information.

Experts say it's a constant battle to keep data safe from increasingly sophisticated networks of identity thieves, but it's one that young people need to participate in. "We have to acknowledge and adjust our perception of reality to accommodate that there are people looking to steal from you," Wallace says.

Other findings
Javelin also found:

  • The number of U.S. identity fraud victims rose 12 percent to 11.1 million adults last year, the highest level since the survey began in 2003.
  • The average fraud resolution time dropped 30 percent to 21 hours.
  • Nearly half of fraud victims now file police reports, resulting in double the reported arrests, triple the prosecutions and double the percentage of convictions in 2009.

Poll methodology
Javelin's poll was conducted via random digit dialing to 5,000 Americans, including 703 identity theft victims. Findings for the identity theft victims are considered accurate at a 95 percent confidence level, with a 3.7 percent margin of error.

See related: Credit to their generations: The Millennials10 ways to protect yourself from data breaches, Social networking: Your key to easy credit?

Published: February 10, 2010


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