Why Online Privacy Isn’t Just an Old People Issue

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What was Reid Hoffman, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn, thinking when he said that concerns about privacy are “old people issues?” Maybe he didn’t know that it’s young people who run the greatest risk of becoming victims of identity fraud.

It took a while for Hoffman’s videotaped comment to make its way to mainstream media from the the planet’s most famous old boy’s network where he uttered it – the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But once it did, the almost universal reaction to the social media entrepreneur’s remark was “Say what?”

Granted, we know that a lot of young people like to overshare more of their personal information online than their parents and grandparents. But does that mean there’s a digital privacy divide that separates the young from the AARP crowd? We don’t think so. Here’s why.

Young Adults Are the Top Targets of Identity Thieves

The #1 target for ID fraud is the core millennial group, ages 18 to 24, according to a 2010 study by Javelin Strategy and Research. Young people like Ryan Thomas, who’s an airman in the Air Force Honor Guard. According to The Washington Post, in 2007, Thomas bought $20 worth of DVDs online, using his debit card. But the next day, his bank account with $900 in it had a zero balance. Thomas took a class on how to protect himself from cybercrime. But three years later, it was déjà vu all over again. In 2010, the 21-year-old told the Post that his account was hacked for the second time – by someone who accessed it from Malaysia.

Millennials like Thomas are a tantalizing target for identity fraudsters for a couple of reasons. They spend more time online, share more of their information and move more often than older Americans. As a result, it takes young people an average of 132 days to detect ID fraud, compared to 49 days for older age groups, according to the Javelin study.

Privacy is Becoming a Hot Button Issue for the Young

Even so, it’s a big stretch for LinkedIn’s founder to say that young people don’t worry about their privacy. A survey by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California found that 88% of 18 to 24 year olds polled said there should be a law requiring social networking sites to delete stored information. And 62% said there should be a law giving people the right to find out everything a website knows about them.
That’s a scary thought.

In 2010, a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 71% of the Facebook users surveyed, ages 18 to 29, reported actively changing their privacy settings compared to only 55% of those aged 50 to 64.

No One is Too Young to be a Victim of Identity Fraud

A 2011 report by Carnegie Mellon CyLab suggests that identity thieves targeting even younger Americans because their identities are pristine and their credit reports often go unchecked for years. In the largest study of child identity theft ever done, using over 40,000 ID protection scans, Distinguished Fellow Richard Power found that more than one in ten children had someone else using their Social Security numbers. That number is 51 times higher than for adults in the same population. Children’s identities were used to buy homes and automobiles, open credit card accounts and obtain driver’s licenses.

Privacy is the freedom to control our personal information and decide who gets to use it.

We all know the more information social networking sites collect about us, the more attractive they are to advertisers. That’s a given. But that doesn’t mean anyone should ignore the elephant in the room. Privacy is a vital issue for everyone – not just old people.

How to Protect Your Online Privacy

∙ Don’t accept any “friend” requests from people you don’t know on social networks, instant messenger or online forums.

∙ Don’t be taken in by phishing scams. Never click on unfamiliar links that could lead you to places you don’t want to go.

∙ Avoid posting information about your home, your children, your birth date, your pet’s name, your vacation plans or anything else that could be exploited by cybercriminals. Only family and friends should be able to access personal information like your photos and posts.

∙ Don’t use the real answers to security questions like your mother’s maiden name, your pet’s name or where you went to school.

∙ Use complex passwords composed of letters, numbers and characters for email, social networking and gaming sites. Use different passwords for each account.

∙ Don’t accept default security settings on social networking sites.

∙ Don’t access social networks on your employer’s computers. That could give hackers a way to steal sensitive business information.

∙ Check your social network’s policy about s sharing information with third party companies when you install an app.

∙ Make sure you use a virtual private network solution like PRIVATE WiFi™ to protect your online privacy. VPN software safeguards your security online by encrypting the data sent to and from your computer. That makes it invisible to hackers.

If you think you’re a victim of identity fraud , visit the Federal Trade Commission’s site, www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/defend.html

Are old people the only ones worried about privacy? Tell us what you think.

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.