Preventing Identity Theft Among Adolescents

Subject: Tech & Engineering
Pages: 10
Words: 2783
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: Bachelor


Social media has undoubtedly entered the public consciousness in more ways than one. In 2021, there are none but a few groups limited to older people, those without Internet access, or individuals deliberately rejecting digitization who do not use Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. Social applications such as the ones mentioned above provide their users with a variety of mediums and tools to create, share, and consume content. No matter the age, culture, nationality, political views, or social status, billions of people are connected through the Internet. In particular, social media sites serve as the primary destinations for those looking to develop or maintain a connection, be it a classmate from 20 years ago or a spouse.

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As a result of such deep penetration, data generated through social media use takes up an overwhelmingly large amount of space. A significant portion of such data is especially sensitive, which makes it all the more desirable for criminals to steal and manipulate. One of the most prominent challenges facing today’s society is relation to the volume of sensitive online data increasing, which leads to the growth in the number of cyber criminals as well. The modern era of information and digitization leaves hundreds of millions of social media users worldwide vulnerable to cybercrime.

The following paper focuses on the impact of social media on children and adolescents. Firstly, they are the target audience of the majority of applications, growing up with various devices and using Instagram and TikTok almost intuitively. Secondly, kids are the most vulnerable for adults to prey on online. Without much real-life experience, knowledge of the dangers strangers may pose, and critical thinking skills, adolescents are under threat. The focal point of this research project is identity theft and its presentation among the child and young adult population. Therefore, the question lies in whether preventative measures are, in fact, effective in minimizing the danger of identity theft among children and adolescents. In addition, a brief comparison will be conducted to determine which methods are more advantageous and practical than others. The purpose of this paper is to examine the issue of identity theft in the context of a specific population to identify the most appropriate measures for preventing such a crime.

Scope of the Problem

Prior to moving forward with the literature review and discussion, it is crucial to investigate the scope of the problem. The most efficient way to do this is to consider the recent statistics regarding the impact of identity theft. Insurance Information Institute (2021) reports that losses resulting from identity theft online are projected to grow to $721.3 billion by the end of 2021. Research findings indicate that “37 percent of consumers have been victims of application fraud and 38 percent experienced account takeovers” (Insurance Information Institute, 2021, para. 3). Although these statistics are a concern, it is important to acknowledge the threat of identity theft as it applies to social media use by adolescents specifically.

Social Media and Cybercrime

Social media has created such a shift in the informational landscape that data generated through sites such as Facebook and YouTube have become a target for criminals. Soomro and Hussain (2019) specify that the primary six areas of crime, which occur in the cyber-space utilizing social media, are burglary, social engineering, malware, cyber-stalking, cyber-casing, and identity theft. Social media and identity theft, in particular, are tightly interconnected. Impersonation online has been on the rise in large part due to the rise of social networking sites and applications. Individuals with malicious intent either create a fictitious profile of a certain individual or illegally access a user’s existing account (Khan et al., 2016). These are the primary strategies used by identity thieves on social media sites.

Social Media and Adolescents

The role of social media among adolescents is hard to overestimate. The majority of teenagers use applications such as Instagram and TikTok daily. Statistics demonstrate that the percentage of adolescents aged 13-17 who are social media users is close to 90 (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2018). The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2018) reports that 75% of teens admit “having at least one active social media profile, and 51% report visiting a social media site at least daily” (para. 1). Since children nowadays are used to spending hours online, the fact that so many of them grow up avid social media users is not surprising. In fact, only 5% of teenagers in the United States do not own a smartphone (Anderson & Jiang, 2018). As a result of smartphones becoming an essential commodity for any American teenager, adolescents spend a substantial portion of their time online. As a result, they become extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks, especially while using social media sites, which are some of the most common Internet destinations for teens.

While social media has definitely gained much prominence among users no matter the age, adolescents remain the primary target for applications such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. This phenomenon can be attributed to a set of inter-connected reasons. Irshad and Soomro (2018) acknowledge that social media sites’ user-friendly interfaces and functions contribute to the popularity among teens who use them intuitively. Another reason why it is easy to interact with social media is the lack of any in-depth technical knowledge necessary to navigate networking applications. In addition, it is important to recognize that a significant portion of the content online is generated for adolescents, particularly by their peers, now known as influencers or content creators. However, using social media has numerous dangerous implications, such as the illusion of privacy, which is virtually non-existent in the digital space. The fact that children and teens are extremely invested in social media makes the risk of them becoming victims of identity theft high.

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Identity Theft

Identity theft is a complex concept, which includes a variety of nuanced aspects. The constant transformation of the online space and technological innovations make it impossible to provide an accurate definition for any cybercrime at any given point in time (Federal Trade Commission, n.d.). Irshad and Soomro (2018) refer to identity theft as “the illegal or unauthorized use of personal information belonging to someone else for one’s own benefit” (p. 43). Even prior to the era of the Internet, identity theft has been an issue of concern. Despite that, digitization has undeniably allowed cyber-criminals to access sensitive information more easily and risk-free. Irshad and Soomro (2018) provide useful categorization of identity theft, highlighting traditional and social media threats. Traditional identity theft methods include: financial, medical, criminal, synthetic, child, driver’s license, as well as tax. Khan et al. (2016) report that identity theft instances are growing primarily due to “individual’s carelessness, technology advancement, moral disengagement of employees, fraud and abuse techniques” (p. 2). Recent statistics support the claim that identity theft is on the rise.

Literature Review

Impact of Social Media Identity Theft

The impact of social media identity theft is truly tremendous, no matter the age, social status, or nationality of the victims. Individuals affected by identity theft online risk getting traumatized. As a result, they might change their behavioral patterns, becoming more paranoid, vigilant, or anxious. After all, the victims are robbed of their identity, while sensitive details of their lives are broadcasted for anyone to see. According to a recent study, 40% of identity theft victims report feelings of stress and frustration (Khan et al., 2016). Khan and his colleagues (2016) add that “45% experience feelings of mistrust and denial, 85% of the victims feel infuriated with the situation they are in” (p. 3). Apart from affecting people on an individual level, social media identity theft leads to negative outcomes on the national scale as well. For instance, Khan et al. (2016) note that the U.K. deals with a financial loss of more than £670 million “because of SMIDT [social media identity theft] and online fraud due to which the economic positioning of the country suffers majorly” (p. 3). Thus, it is evident that social media identity theft is a multi-dimensional problem that causes mental, financial, and societal harm.

Impact of Social Media Identity Theft

In the United States, identity theft prevention is taken seriously as the government implements a variety of solutions to minimize the risk of people becoming victims of such crimes. Authorities invest millions in preventative measures, often utilizing the support of commercial organizations, non-governmental groups, and the international community (Wang et al., 2017). Nowhere is progressed as evident as it is in the technology sector. Over the years, the need to protect sensitive data stored online and minimize the danger of impersonation has created the demand for technologically-advanced services.

Thus, certain industry giants started offering their clients concise recommendations for taking full advantage of the technology readily available to them in order to prevent identity theft. Such preventative advice might have included “using a digital wallet for instore and online purchases, setting up two-factor authentication for online accounts, adopting security measures for digital devices,” and so on (Piquero et al., 2021, p. 446). Although such measures have proven to be effective, they are limited by the attitude of users towards preventative practices. Research demonstrates that while people easily check their account statements, they rarely agree to fraud alerts or request credit freezes (Piquero et al., 2021). This is a shame since the latter two practices are some of the most effective at preventing identity theft and cybercrime, which is why companies strongly recommend them.

In order to examine how to make technological preventative measures more effective in the future, it is crucial to uncover the exact reason behind the public’s resistance to recommendations. According to Piquero et al. (2021), the primary concern for them is usability. The likelihood of people implementing the advice to utilize the double-authentication process and other technological solutions decreases if they have trouble deciphering how to do it. Piquero et al. (2021) note that such issues as long “set-up times, low quality of service, or barriers to implementation” are among the most crucial for companies to solve. Although all of the aforementioned approaches are effective at addressing the issue of identity theft, none of them relate specifically to social media identity theft among the child and adolescent population.

Preventing identity theft among youth should be a multi-faceted approach, as evidenced by a variety of studies this literature review will discuss in detail. The first strategy lies in youth education programs sponsored by the State, non-governmental organizations, or private institutions. The primary benefits of such programs are their effectiveness, collaborative environment, and the space such initiatives provide for teenagers to discuss common issues with peers. This preventative method can be highly efficient since it is often implemented in the form of interactive workshops or lectures, which allow children and adolescents to ask questions. Most importantly, participants can satisfy their curiosity by receiving an informative answer from an expert.

Despite that, there is a risk of such programs doing more harm than good if they are designed with stereotypical premises, to begin with. For instance, to discourage teens from sexting or sending provocative images via social media, adults often use fear tactics. However, research demonstrates that such threatening “warnings about premature sexual behavior (…) have not proven very successful because even when adolescents become aware of risks, they do not automatically stop taking them” (Finkelhor et al., 2020, p. 1237). Instead, educators working on identity theft and cybercrime awareness programs for teens might consider shifting the focus of workshops towards issues of consent and boundaries rather than shame. Research shows that programs that create positive change in terms of knowledge and attitudes of adolescents are the ones that encourage critical thinking (Finkelhor et al., 2020). Thus, the most efficient educational programs, particularly in regards to online theft of intimate details, are evidence-based and considerate of teenage residents’ feelings.

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In terms of the lessons such educational programs should contain, there are various important reminders for teens. Firstly, it is crucial to never share or display personal data online. Secondly, it might be risk-averting to turn off automatic log-ins on all the devices. Thirdly, it is extremely dangerous for users to tag a location they are currently in, essentially letting billions of people have access to such information. Another lesson is to use strong and one-of-a-kind passwords to sign into the device or any social media account. Using the option of authentic double ovation might be a useful idea as well. There are a number of other tips and recommendations for teens and parents to include in educational programs (Ahmad et al., 2019). However, these constitute the foundation of knowledge needed to minimize the risk of falling victim to social media identity theft.

Findings and Discussion

The findings are conclusive in that the authorities have to continue investing in identity theft prevention. Governmental initiatives and private sector projects, in combination, might become an effective, long-term solution to minimize the dangers associated with cybercrime, particularly impersonation. It is important to note that despite the success of the technology industry in developing preventative methods each user can implement, such methods have to become more user-friendly. People have to spend as little time as possible making out the steps they have to take to protect themselves online. Aligning with the most recent research on the subject, the solution lies in improving the usability of preventative options.

In regards to adolescents, in particular, it is apparent that regulatory and technological prevention mechanisms have limitations. There is rightfully reason for concern in regards to the extent such initiatives can mitigate the dangers associated with identity theft. Since the majority of identity theft crimes deal with personal information, individual behavioral factors are crucial to consider in prevention and mitigation initiatives. Educational programs for teenagers may serve as a much-needed solution. They disseminate the latest research and information in regards to social media identity theft, allowing the adolescent to remain knowledgeable about the risks they face when surfing online. Each teen has to take responsibility for their personal data, which can be achieved if they are thoroughly informed of the dangers associated with identity theft and measures to protect themselves. Educational programs for youth have the potential to initiate greater cultural shifts, which may, in turn, affect teenagers’ behavioral patterns in relation to online privacy and social media use.

The structure and design of social media applications encourage users to share their personal information online, which can be extremely dangerous. This paper has examined the ways in which preventative measures can effectively help adolescents to navigate the online environment. Although there is a variety of methods to mitigate the risk of identity cybercrime, a combination of approaches is likely to be the most effective in the long term. The pervasive nature of identity theft, as well as the complexities associated with regulating a constantly changing digital environment, are some of the primary reasons why a blend of different solutions might be most suitable. It is evident that future research and experimentation are crucial to investigate the efficiency of the mix of the responses.

In regards to adolescents and their use of social media specifically, local and State communities might start by increasing awareness of identity theft risks and prevention methods among youth. This can be achieved through evidence-based educational programs encouraging critical thinking and open discussion. According to research, they are some of the most effective preventative measures. This paper determines effectiveness by the satisfaction of those the initiative or project is directed towards. Despite the existing body of literature, more research surrounding information sharing using social media is needed. Educators and regulatory agencies should have more data regarding identity theft and the intricacies of the adolescent population’s responses to it readily available to them.


In conclusion, it is apparent that identity theft is an exceptionally serious issue that demands a multi-layered response. Apart from punishing cyber-criminals, the government has to invest in preventing private information leaks online. The focus of such measures should be on users themselves as they hold the majority of responsibility associated with their sensitive data. Although regulatory and technological responses motivated by the U.S. authorities have been somewhat effective, they continue to disregard the population at the highest risk of falling victim to identity crime online. Children and adolescents are the primary internets and social media users who lack critical thinking skills and life experience to put up a fight against cyber-thieves. There is an urgent need to mitigate the dangers of identity theft among youth. Ultimately, this requires a multi-faceted approach. Effective solutions should be an outcome of the relationship between technology, research, legislation, and cooperation with adolescents. They have to disseminate information in regards to data sharing online, related dangers, and possible prevention methods.


Ahmad, N., Arifin, A., Asma’Mokhtar, U., Hood, Z., Tiun, S., & Jambari, D. I. (2019). Parental awareness on cyber threats using social media. Jurnal Komunikasi: Malaysian Journal of Communication, 35(2).

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American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2018). Social media and teens. AACAP. Web.

Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. Teens, social media and technology, 2018. Pew Research Center. Web.

Federal Trade Commission. (n.d.). Report identity theft and get a recovery plan. Web.

Finkelhor, D., Walsh, K., Jones, L., Mitchell, K., & Collier, A. (2020). Youth Internet safety education: Aligning programs with the evidence base. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 22(5), 1233–1247.

Insurance Information Institute. (2021). Facts + statistics: Identity theft and cybercrime. III. Web.

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Khan, Z. Reza., Rakhman, S. & Bangera, A. (2016). ‘Who stole me?’ Identity theft on social media in the UAE. 4th Global Conference on Business and Social Sciences, Global Academy of Training and Research, 1-8. Web.

Piquero, N. L., Piquero, A. R., Gies, S., Green, B., Bobnis, A., & Velasquez, E. (2021). Preventing identity theft: Perspectives on technological solutions from industry insiders. Victims & Offenders, 16(3), 444–463.

Soomro, T. R. & Hussain, M. (2019). Social media-related cybercrimes and techniques for their prevention. Applied Computer Systems, 24(1), 9-17.

Wang, C., Yang, B., & Luo, J. (2017). Identity theft detection in mobile social networks using behavioral semantics. IEEE International Conference on Smart Computing, 1-3.