Most adults understand the risks involved in identity theft and pass this knowledge on to their teenage children. Don't open email attachments from unrecognized senders. Tear up or shred bank and credit card statements before discarding them. Some may have even educated them on the importance of obtaining their credit report on a yearly basis. However, most teens may not know that they are opening themselves up to identity theft by sharing music and videos with friends.
Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are used by many teenagers to send and receive music, videos and photos. Such networks include LimeWire, Kazaa and Rhapsody. The risk of a criminal accessing one's computer through a P2P network are diminished if the software is set up properly, but easy illegal downloads and upgrades can drastically increase a teen's risk of a data breach, according to online newspaper New Jersey Today.
Illegally downloaded content or non-secure networks may allow technologically-savvy criminals to access all files on a user's computer, not just the music and video accounts. This may include tax documents, bank or credit account information and school data that may include a student's Social Security number, the newspaper cautions.
To highlight the threat, the Today Show conducted a study on the dangers of file sharing networks by performing simple searches using key words like "tax return" and "health insurance" on file-sharing networks, the newspaper explains. The newspaper reports that the study allowed investigators to view more than 25,000 student loan applications, 150,000 tax returns and 626,000 credit reports through the networks.
The danger is elevated because easy accessibility to P2P file-sharing networks isn't limited to those that use them. Even individuals that do not have the networks installed on their home computer can still fall victim to a data breach through third parties that may utilize the software. For example, retail stores, schools and even doctor's offices that have client information stored on a computer that houses P2P file-sharing programs put their customers at risk, the newspaper reports.
Despite the inability to control what businesses store and transmit, individuals should continue to protect their personal data and only provide the third-party service providers with the bare minimum amount of information they need to perform their contractual duties. Consumers should also be vigilant about obtaining a copy of their credit report each year to review for suspicious activity.