Identity Theft

Who’s the Most Vulnerable to Identity Theft?

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Middle-aged Americans have experienced more personal data breaches than others — at least, they report it most often.

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center said 20% of Internet users ages 30 to 49 years old and 20% of those ages 50 to 64 reported having important personal information stolen as of January 2014. That’s up from 15% and 11%, respectively, in July 2013. The massive Target data breach in December probably had a bit to do with the spike, but all age groups reported increased theft of either credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or bank account information. The 50- to 64-year-olds saw the largest jump from July to January, with a 9 percentage-point increase.

What Makes You a Target?

Do the 30- to 64-year-olds have something desirable to identity thieves that make them more vulnerable to data breaches than others? Not necessarily, but they may perhaps be at greater risk because of how they behave online. Credit.com and Identity Theft 911 Chairman Adam Levin said it’s typically behavior, rather than personal characteristics, that makes someone a target for identity theft.

“Everybody has what identity thieves want,” Levin said. “Obviously, they want a Social Security number.”

A stolen Social Security number is the jackpot for an identity thief: It opens the door to filing tax returns for a false refund and creating fraudulent bank accounts, credit cards and loans.

“If you’re very active on social networking sites, you’re leaving yourself open to identity theft,” Levin said. While young adults use social media more than any other age group, they also make the most effort to protect themselves from hackers, according to other Pew Research reports: 90% of 18- to 29-year-old Internet users interact on social media, and 45% have taken measures to hide their information from those who are trying to steal it. Among the 30- to 49-year-old group, 78% are on social media and 32% attempt to protect themselves from hackers, and the numbers for the 50- to 64-year-olds are 65% and 25%, respectively.

The Usual Victims

That being said, there are certainly some groups traditionally targeted by identity thieves. Levin named a few:

Children

“Children have pristine Social Security numbers,” Levin said. People aren’t always checking a kid’s credit, either, making a child’s identity a tempting target. Unfortunately, children are often victims of identity thieves within their families, because parents and relatives have easy access to their information.

Senior Citizens

They didn’t report a lot of online data breaches, but senior citizens are the least likely people to be online. A lot of senior citizens don’t check their credit, Levin said, and if they’re very ill, an in-home caretaker has plenty of opportunity to steal sensitive information and use it without anyone noticing.

The Deceased

“When you die, your identity becomes even more interesting to an identity thief,” Levin said. In the wake of losing a family member, people aren’t likely to have the deceased’s credit on top of mind. Sometimes there’s no one left to check up on it. Social Security numbers are eventually added to the Social Security death index, but after-death identity theft is still a relatively common issue.

Military

“They love military, because many military people don’t put an active duty alert on their credit files,” Levin said. When a member of the armed forces is deployed, even if he or she isn’t in combat, staying on top of credit probably isn’t a priority or even a realistic possibility, depending on the person’s location.

In all of these situations, the individual whose credit is at stake has little or no ability to monitor his or her own credit, so it’s important for family members to help manage it. While family can’t always be trusted, there needs to be a plan in place for reviewing your free annual credit reports and credit scores (which you can monitor for free on Credit.com) for signs of identity theft. All consumers should also prioritize checking their bank accounts daily.

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