With the number of identity thefts and frauds rising 12 percent from 2011 to 2012 in the United States, according to the 2012 Identity Fraud Report released by Javelin Strategy and Research, teenagers and young adults have become vulnerable targets for such crimes.

Young adults, ages 18 to 24, took the longest to detect identity theft — 132 days on average — when compared to other age groups. As a result, the average cost was roughly five times more than the amount lost by other age groups, according to the same report.

“First and foremost, keep track of your physical assets,” University Police Assistant Chief Jerry Lottie said. “Keep track of your laptop and devices, and make sure you have passwords.”

In addition to protecting personal property, Lottie said he recommends that students keep tabs on their finances by checking their credit score annually and requesting credit alerts, which will increase their chances of noticing fraudulent charges.

In 2012, 85 percent of identity theft incidents in 2012 involved the fraudulent use of credit card or bank account information, according to the Victims of Identity Theft report released by the Bureau of
Justice Statistics in December 2013.

In the event that a credit or debit card is stolen, it can usually be tracked through the location of the card’s use, Lottie said, and it is “immediately enhanced to a felony charge because of the access to money.”

PSUC senior Melissa Offman-Rodriguez, whose debit card number was stolen and used, learned first-hand the effects of identity fraud.

“I went to the bank to deposit my paycheck, and I asked for a balance, like I usually do, to make sure the numbers added up. They told me I had two dollars in my account.”

Offman-Rodriguez holds an account at Community Bank and said that she immediately contacted them to start the paperwork for a fraudulent charges claim.

“They told me that my card had been used in New Jersey,” Offman-Rodriguez said. “I got my money back two weeks later. They were nice about it; I could spend the money that was stolen before they even put it back in my account.”

Despite the fact that 11 million Americans had their identity stolen in 2011, according the 2012 Identity Fraud Report, most financial institutions have programs in place to help customers recover from identity theft and fraud. A spokesperson for T.D. Bank could not be reached for comment; however, the bank’s website features a page offering tips to help protect against identity theft. Reporting fraudulent charges can usually be done by calling the bank or a credit bureau.

If personal information is stolen, Lottie said it is imperative to report it to a financial institution as soon as possible.

“Contact one of the three credit institutions – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion – if you are a victim of fraud,” Lottie said.

In a lot identity theft and fraud cases, information is stolen electronically via the Internet or from unprotected devices. However, in the case that a theft involves a physical, face-to-face robbery of property, “Give it up immediately and report it,” Lottie said without hesitation. “It’s not worth getting hurt over monetary property.”

Email Thomas Marble at thomas.marble@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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