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Young adults are prime targets for identity theft

Tribune Content Agency logoTribune Content Agency 8/31/2018 By Steve Rosen, Tribune Content Agency

You can count on your kids being victimized at some point by an identity theft.

When I issued that warning in a column last month, I did not envision that time might come just a few weeks later when the Equifax breach was revealed. It has potentially exposed personal information of 143 million people, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver's license numbers.

You can bet that many college-age kids -- even with bare bones credit histories -- were among the victims in this theft.

In my August column, I explained how my own credit card had been compromised while I was on vacation. I also wrote about the steps I took to prevent further damage, including checking my credit reports with the three main credit bureaus and signing up for a free credit monitoring service through Credit Karma that alerts me to suspect transactions.

Since then, readers have weighed with additional suggestions to prevent or at least minimize hackers from invading you or your kids' personal files.

To make one thing perfectly clear, college-age kids are no more bullet-proof from identity theft than anyone else. In fact, they may even be more susceptible, if they're too revealing on social networking sites, or simply fail to keep a close eye on their credit or debit cards in their dorm room.

If your college-age kids have established credit -- say, from signing up for a cell phone plan -- they should check their credit reports by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. This service is free. They can see if there's been any attempt to open a credit card under their name.

In addition, the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), has tons of information online geared to helping college students deal with identity theft.

What's the best insurance to prevent ID theft? A credit freeze. This locks up your credit report and blocks thieves from opening new loans or lines of credit under your name.

To ice your accounts, you must contact all three main credit bureaus -- TransUnion, Experian and, yes, Equifax -- and it takes only minutes to complete online. It costs about $5 to $10 per bureau, depending on your state. You can also set up a freeze by calling 1-877-322-8228.

But read the fine print before putting your credit reports on ice. Besides stopping criminals, a freeze also prevents you from getting new credit, such as a student loan, a car loan or an additional credit card. In that case, you'll need to contact the credit reporting companies to temporarily lift the freeze.

Keep in mind there can be fees each time you add, lift or remove a freeze, and then reinstate it.

Another option: Setting spending limits on your credit cards. This allows you to keep tabs either through text or emails on other authorized users of the card, such as a son or daughter away at college.

For example, if your single purchase limit is $200 and somebody tries to charge $1,000 for a washing machine, you will be alerted immediately by text or email. While the purchase will go through, at least you'll know quickly what's going on with your account.

Said one reader: "All my cards are shared with other family members, and are set up to notify me of any purchase over $10." The notice -- in her case, from Visa -- includes the time and location of the purchase, as well as the amount charged.

Another strategy, using a virtual credit card number, has become increasingly popular for online purchases.

As explained by PC magazine, this is a randomly generated card number associated with your actual credit card. Depending on the card issuer, you may be able to set up a maximum charge for the virtual number and an expiration date, which further protects your transaction from hackers.

"To the online merchant, it looks no different from any other credit card," PC said in its report. "The charges appear on your regular bill, but the merchant doesn't have your actual credit card number."

One reader said he uses a virtual credit card number through MasterCard on all his online purchases on Amazon. "At least you are not disclosing your main card number ... if a hack was to occur," the reader said.

Finally, make sure your kids have followed through on no-cost, commonsense measures to thwart identity bandits: monitoring monthly credit card and bank statements; changing passwords regularly; and adding a shredder to the dorm room decor to destroy sensitive documents.

Even if you dodged a bullet from the Equifax breach, it should at least serve as a warning to protect yourself. Consider these numbers: Since 2005, there have been 7,900 known data base hacks with about 1.05 billion personal files exposed, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. And the thieves keep getting smarter.

(Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an email to sbrosen1030@gmail.com.)

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