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Students being trained how to avoid identity theft

Zach Friesen speaks to students at Taylorsville High School.
Zach Friesen speaks to students at Taylorsville High School.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Zach Friesen bought a $40,000 houseboat when he was 7 years old — that was, according to his credit report 10 years later when he was trying to apply for a retail job.

After his identity was stolen as a child, Friesen struggled getting a job and student loans. Now he wants to empower students with awareness and ways to avoid identity theft.

In the past three years, in a program sponsored by Qwest, Friesen has visited 200 high schools and talked to more than 2,000 students about identity theft.

He said that in his case, it's been speculated that the identity thief acquired his information off a sign-in sheet in his doctor's office. He said it was more customary in the early '90s to sign in by listing a patient's name and Social Security number.

The culprits were long gone, and Friesen had to spend around 40 hours of work and $1,200 to clear his name.

Last week, Friesen spoke to a few hundred students at Skyline and Taylorsville high schools. And many students were surprised to learn how easily they could fall victim.

"I didn't know people were targeted at our age, but it makes sense," said Blair Karren, senior at Skyline High School, who said she plans to check her credit report yearly now.

"I just really want kids to walk away with the understanding of what identity theft is — how to prevent it from happening and what to do if it does — because teens and young children are being targeted more than anyone in America," Friesen said.

He said students should check their report at least once a year through legitimate Web sites like

Qwest Communications officials said they hired Friesen to speak with teens around the country because, as a large Internet provider, they want customers to be empowered and aware of what to do to keep themselves from falling victim to identity theft and the danger in sharing too much online.

In a related project, this week Qwest kicked of its "1 Percent Back to Schools" program where customers are able to donate 1 percent of a residential bill every month to a school district of their choice when the customer signs up for online billing and auto pay.