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Tuscani
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Registered: ‎03-29-2007
Victim of ID Theft - at age 7
Teens warned about online ID theft
By Rachel Tuinstra
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

At 17, Zach Friesen found out he was $40,000 in debt for a houseboat he purchased when he was 7 years old.

Or at least that's what his credit showed. Someone had stolen his identity and used his personal information to buy the boat. Friesen, now 21, wants to make sure that doesn't happen to other teens.

On Wednesday, Friesen talked to Bellevue High School students about how they can ensure they don't fall victim to identity theft. That means being vigilant about the information available to the public, especially through the Internet.

Friesen, a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, spent part of the week speaking to Washington teens about identity theft on behalf of Qwest. During the presentation, Friesen asked students about their Internet, cellphone and computer use.

The information, which is part of a national survey of teens, will be compiled by Qwest and released in the coming months, Friesen said.

Teens are the fastest-growing population being targeted by identity thieves, and those 18 to 29 are most often targeted for identity theft, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report. Washington is also one of the top 10 states for the number of reports of identity theft, according to the report.

"It's not your money the thief is after," Friesen told students in a marketing and business class. "It's the money that could be loaned to you. That is why teens are targeted. You all have a clean slate."

During the presentation, Friesen covered topics such as phishing, or attempts to fraudulently acquire sensitive information like usernames, passwords and credit-card details.

About a third of the Bellevue High students said they had received such e-mails, while more than half didn't know what phishing was.

He also asked the teens how they know whether a Web site is really secure. A few knew the answer: Look for "https:" as opposed to "http:" in the URL.

He encouraged students to check their credit report annually, and to be aware of, and careful with, the information they reveal on social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. And, he warned, be cautious when meeting people through the Internet.

"If you put something up on MySpace, it's public domain," he said. "There are good ways and bad ways to meet people online. Meeting someone in the back of a van, not a good idea ... but you're smart enough to figure that out."

The presentation got some students thinking about their credit and how to protect themselves online. Some said they were shocked to learn that one in five people will be the victim of identity theft.

Dylan Simons, 17, has already dealt with this kind of fraud. Last year someone stole his debit card, eventually overdrawing his bank balance by $1,500. He worked with his bank and eventually got his money back, he said.

Even with that experience, he said, he learned from the presentation.

"I didn't realize you can get information off of MySpace," Simons said. "I'm not going to keep putting information on the Internet."