Protect your teen from identity theft

As your teenage son or daughter becomes more involved in the financial world, he or she also may become more susceptible to identity theft.

Here are a few basic tips for teens that can help them safeguard their information as they become more financially independent.

Protect your sensitive information. You use your name, Social Security number, date of birth and other sensitive information to apply for, and often access, financial accounts. A thief who gets a hold of this information can use it to open a new credit card in your name, and charge purchases that go unpaid.

Any entity that requests this information from you should have a very good reason for doing so. Exercise caution with any requests, especially with any requests that arrive by email.

It’s not likely that a financial institution would ask you to send such information via email, so always call the institution or log in to your online account to verify the request.

Safeguard your account numbers, checks and credit cards. Keep your checks in a safe place, and if you pay bills or shop online, check to be sure that the business is reputable and that the website is secure before entering your information. As soon as you notice your credit cards are lost or stolen, report them to the credit card issuer, so that any subsequent charges won’t be billed to you.

Don’t share passwords. You are the only person who should know the passwords to your financial accounts, as well as the email account where you receive financial statements and communications. (An exception to this rule can be a letter of instruction that you prepare for your family in case anything happens to you.)

It’s generally a good practice not to share your passwords, to store them in a safe place, and to use different passwords for each account.

Review credit reports every year for errors and fraud. Errors can happen, and left alone, they can negatively impact your credit rating for some time. You can avoid this by pulling up your credit reports every year, once you have a loan or credit card in  your name. You can go to www.  annualcreditreport.com to request a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You are entitled to receive these free reports once every twelve months.

Your credit reports also can alert you to fraudulent accounts opened in your name. You can lessen the potential damage to your credit rating if you catch such activity early.

Review your bills and statements as you receive them. If you have questions about recurring fees, or if you find a mistake or a charge that you didn’t incur, it’s best to deal with them as early as possible. Try to look over your statements as soon as you get them, call your financial institution with any questions, and keep your files organized so that you can retrieve them easily when you need them.

Safeguard your records. Keep your important records in a place where only you can access them. When you make electronic backups, password protect your files in order to secure them. Use a safety deposit box for your most sensitive records, and shred any records that you plan to dispose.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 19 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii.  You can email him at  moneymattersguam@yahoo.com

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