18- to 24-year-olds most at risk for ID theft, survey finds

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ryan Thomas, an airman in the Air Force Honor Guard, bought some DVDs on the Internet using his debit card. It was a $20 payment made from his account, which had about $900.

But the following day, his account balance was zero.

Someone had stolen his account information and bought computer games and other items.

"I didn't know better about securing your information on the computer," said Thomas, 21, who lives in Southeast Washington and flies planes over Arlington National Cemetery during funerals.

After the 2007 incident, Thomas took a class about how to protect information in cyberspace. But last month, he was hit again, this time by someone who targeted his account from Malaysia.

Similar identity-theft cases are rising sharply across the country, as young people -- sometimes cavalier with their personal information -- are hit the hardest, according to a survey released last month.

Identity fraud can include stealing a credit card number or opening a bank account in someone else's name. Thieves generally cross state lines in the commission of their crimes and are often linked to rings overseas in places such as Russia and Spain.

The "core millennial" group, identified as people ages 18 to 24, is at the greatest risk because it takes them longer to figure out that they have been defrauded -- meaning their information is compromised for a longer period, according to the survey, which is a snapshot of the identity fraud landscape from last year.

"Millennials don't protect enough or detect enough," said James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Strategy & Research, a California-based company that examined where identity theft threats are coming from and what effects they are having on consumers.

It takes young people an average of 132 days to detect fraudulent activity on their credit cards, bank accounts and other personal holdings, and those in older age groups average 49 days, the survey shows. When their identities are stolen, millennials are victimized by thieves for an average of about five months.

"The 18-to-24 group is unique. They're going to college. They're away from home for the first time. They're sharing more information. More of their information is exposed," Van Dyke said. "The old stereotype is true that people are sharing information willy-nilly and are waiting until they become a victim to listen to sound advice."

Thieves stole $400 from law student Gregory Peltz after he opened a tab at an Ohio dive bar, giving the bartender his debit card for the evening as he rang up drinks. He was shocked when his bank called him days later and told him that someone had withdrawn cash from the account, even without the card.

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