Identity theft is a growing crime in the United States. Who's most at risk? That’s hard to say. Reliable statistics on identity theft targets are few. So, we’ve identified four groups that may have a higher risk of ID theft. We’ve ordered them chronologically, starting at birth and ending in old age.
Who is vulnerable to identity theft? Here’s what our list of identity theft targets looks like:
- Mega social media users
- High-income earners
- The elderly
Do you fall into one of these groups?
If so, it’s smart to take steps to help protect against identity theft. But even if you don’t fall into these categories, these tips are still applicable to everyone to help protect against ID theft.
1. Children — thieves seek a clean slate in this identity theft target
Children are vulnerable to identity theft. Why? Their Social Security numbers often offer thieves a "clean slate" to apply for credit cards, mortgages, and more.
And guess what. It may take years to realize your child is a victim. Some won’t even find out until they apply for things like student loans or car financing—and are rejected. It can take time to untangle the financial mess a thief left long ago.
Kids probably can’t be expected to protect their identities. That’s more of an adult activity. Here are two ways you can help protect your kids:
- Guard their personal information, especially Social Security numbers. Before providing their Social Security numbers to doctors or schools, ask how they will be used and whether you can provide another type of identifier, instead.
- Contact the three major credit reporting agencies and request a manual check of your child's credit report. Consider requesting a credit freeze on their reports—making it harder for thieves to open new accounts in their name.
2. Mega social media users — the devil’s in the details
Are you all over social media? Here's some not-so-great news: Sharing details about your personal life on digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram could put you at a higher risk of identity theft.
Consider an identity thief who somehow knows the number to your bank account. Maybe the thief found that number in your trash or acquired it after a data breach. Here's how it works. Through your social media posts, the identity thief may discover personally identifiable information about you or your family members and use those details to get through security measures in your bank account.
Or, because you've provided so many details about your life, a scammer might even send you a highly personalized “spear-phishing email,” designed to get you to provide more financial information.
“We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to social media and identity theft,” says Steve Weisman, a senior lecturer at Bentley University and author of “Identity Theft Alert.” “The more we share, the more we put ourselves at risk.”
Here’s how you can help protect against potential identity theft.
- Separate your work-related social accounts (which can be public) from personal ones (which can stay private, so only your trusted friends and family members can see what you post).
- Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know.
3. High-income earners — ‘data footprints’ may increase risk
If you’re a high-income earner, you may have a bigger data footprint. You may have more disposable income. You might shop at more places. You may use multiple credit cards.
In other words, you may be leaving more financial and personal data behind in more places than someone of modest means. In the event of a data breach, that information could be exposed.
Another possible vulnerability? Passwords. Some high-income earners may use the same passwords and security measures for every account, meaning access to one account is access to many, Weisman says.
Here are a few ways you can help protect yourself against identity theft:
- Use a unique distinctive password and, when possible, dual-factor authentication for every account.
- When setting up accounts, consider not answering security questions "correctly." For instance, instead of using your mom's maiden name, use something like "fire truck."
4. Elderly people — biologically vulnerable?
A Cornell University study found the elderly people — who are 60 and older — who fell victim to financial exploitation had a biological disadvantage when it comes to identity theft. The studied found nearly 5% of seniors may be less able to perceive people's intentions and understand dangerous situations and thus be financially exploited.
The result? Those seniors may be less skeptical, making them more vulnerable to financial exploitation. And because they might also have high net worth, their age group can easily be targeted for phone scams, phishing attacks and medical identity theft.
The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force offers a few resources on how elderly people can avoid identity theft. Here are two of them:
- Don't buy anything from an unfamiliar company (via phone or online). Uninitiated phone calls or emails may be a scam created to steal your information.
- Keep records of all your medical appointments, and compare them to your explanation of benefit documents.
So, those are the four groups that seem like the biggest targets for identity theft. And what if you don’t fall into any of them? Sorry. Chances are, you’re still an identity theft target.