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Protecting Your Privacy: Best Practices for Young Adults

These days, a fraudster can steal any one's money or Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, passwords, and other information to access accounts and go on a buying or borrowing spree. Here are some general precautions, especially for young adults who spend a lot of time online.

Use Internet passwords that would be difficult to guess. For logging in, use strong passwords that employ unusual combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols, and then change them regularly.

Never provide personal information in response to an unsolicited text message, email, call, or letter asking you to “update” or “confirm” personal information. For example, your bank won’t contact you to confirm your bank account number or password because it already has that information. If you receive an unsolicited request for bank account information and you’re unsure what to do, contact your bank directly to verify its authenticity.

Beware of incoming emails or text messages that ask you to click on a link. It may install malicious software, called “malware,” that could allow crooks to spy on your computer or mobile device and gain access to your online banking sites.

Be especially careful when using social networking sites. Fraudsters can use sites to gather personal information about you, such as your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, and family names that can help them figure out your passwords. Criminals may also pretend to be your ‘friends’ or relatives and trick you into sending money or divulging personal information.

Assume that any offer that seems “too good to be true,” especially one from a stranger or unfamiliar company, is probably a fraud. Con artists often pose as charities or business people offering awards, jobs, or other “opportunities.” Be careful of being pressured to make a quick decision and asked to send money or provide bank account information before you receive anything in return.

Be on guard against fraudulent checks or electronic money transfers. One of the biggest scams involves a transaction in which strangers or unfamiliar companies send you a check for more than you are due and then ask you to wire back the difference. If the check is fraudulent, you could lose a lot of money.

Protect your mail. It may include credit card or bank statements, documents showing confidential information, or other items that could be valuable to a thief. For your incoming mail, try to use a locked mailbox or a mailbox that is in a secure location. Put outgoing mail, if it contains a check or personal information, in a Postal Service mailbox or directly to the post office instead of leaving it in your doorway or home mailbox. Instead of receiving paper statements, check to see if electronic options are available.

Always review your bank statements and credit card bills as soon as they arrive. Report any discrepancy or anything suspicious, such as an unauthorized withdrawal or charge, to your financial institution.

Treat your personal financial information like gold. Keep bank and credit card statements, tax returns, old credit and debit cards, and blank checks out of sight. When it’s time to toss sensitive documents, shred them first.

Periodically review your credit reports to make sure an identity thief hasn’t obtained a credit card or loan in your name. Experts suggest that to maximize your protection, you request a free copy from all three of the nation’s major credit bureaus (their reports may differ) but spread out the requests throughout the year. For more information and to request a report, go to or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.