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Protect yourself from crime online

A robber coming out of a computer screen.

What is identity theft? arrow top

Identity theft is a crime in which a person gets your personal information, such as your Social Security or driver’s license number, and uses this information to get loans, credit cards, or buy things, all in your name.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. And each year, more and more young people are becoming victims of identity theft. In fact, young people under the age of 29 now make up 31 percent of the 10 million identify thefts that happen each year in the U.S.

Identity thieves look for easy targets. Teens are especially at risk because they often know little about finances and credit reports. Teens who become victims of identity theft usually find out about the crime the hard way — when they apply for a driver’s license or a credit card.

Identity thieves use many different ways to get your information.

  • They get information from businesses or other places by:
    • stealing records or information while they're on the job
    • bribing an employee who has access to these records
    • hacking these records
    • conning information out of employees
  • Wallet.They may steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.
  • They may look through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
  • They may get your credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report.
  • They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
  • They may steal your wallet or purse.
  • They may complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.
  • They may steal personal information they find in your home.
  • They may steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as "phishing" online, or pretexting by phone.

Be very careful about giving out your personal information, especially if you are contacted and asked for personal information, whether by phone, email or IM. Safe companies that have good reputations do not contact their customers asking for personal information.

You can help prevent identity theft.

  • Credit card statement.Do not feel that you have to give out your personal information. Tell anyone who asks for personal information, such as your Social Security, driver’s license or credit card numbers, that you want to know how they’ll use your information and how they plan to protect it.
  • Do not use an obvious password. Sure, an obvious password (like your birthday, your phone number, or your pet’s name) may be easy for you to remember, but it’s also very easy for an identity thief to guess. Create a truly random password that contains a mix of letters, numbers, and/or symbols. Then, write your password down in a safe place so you don’t forget it!
  • Keep your personal information safe:
    • Don’t store personal information where others may be able to find it, such as on your laptop, cell phone, pager or MP3 player. To be safe, password-protect your laptop, cell phone, pager, and MP3 player.
    • Don’t carry your Social Security Card in your wallet or purse.
    • Shred all papers containing personal information before throwing them in the trash. You can buy a shredder at your local office supply store. Cross-cut shredders are best.
  • Check your financial statements regularly. If you have a bank account or credit card, make sure to check your statements each month to make sure there are no problems. If you find anything you don’t recognize or understand, call the bank or credit card company right away.
  • Check your credit history. At age 16, start ordering your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year to check for problems. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau. Order your credit reports from all three bureaus at If you find anything that doesn’t look right, contact the appropriate credit bureau right away.
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If someone says inappropriate things to you online or wants to meet you in person, you and your parents/guardians can report it to the Cybertipline

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  How can I tell if someone is telling the truth? arrow top

The scary thing is that it's REALLY hard to tell if someone is telling the truth, especially online. There are people out there who lie about who they are and stalk young girls on the Internet. For example, someone may lie and tell you that they are much younger or even older than they are. Even if you try to check on the person by reading their online profile, a person can easily lie about themselves and their age. Bottom line is that some people who use the Internet can't be trusted and could hurt you. Play ID the Creep to see how easily you can be fooled.

What do I do if someone I talk to on the Internet wants to meet in person? arrow top

Even though you may feel like you know someone you met online really well, this person is still a stranger. It's best never to meet someone you met online in person. If someone that you met online wants to meet you in person, you should tell your parents/guardians or a trusted adult right away.

What do I do if someone on the Internet is harassing me? arrow top

If someone on the Internet sends you lots of emails, follows you into chat rooms, or sends you messages even after you have stopped responding, then the person may be harassing you. First, tell your parents/guardians right away about the person. The next step is to try ignoring the person while you are on the Internet to see if they will leave you alone and get the hint. If they continue to bother you even after you have stopped responding, then you and your parents/guardians can call your Internet Service Provider and complain about the other person. You and your parents/guardians can also talk to the police. It is not your fault if someone starts bothering you! You and your parents/guardians can stop them from harassing you and someone else.


Content last reviewed September 22, 2009
Page last updated October 31, 2013