Not only do we need to stay alert to the dangers of identity theft for ourselves, but we need to keep track of how our children’s identity is being used or abused as well.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), child ID theft happens when someone uses a minor’s personal information to commit fraud. A thief may steal and use a child’s information to score a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, a car loan, or a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering and undoing the damage resulting from the theft can be a challenge. Because the crime happened against a young child who doesn’t regularly check their credit report, the crime may go undiscovered for years. The child victim may learn of ID theft only when they first apply for credit, a job, an apartment, or insurance.
More than half of child identity fraud victims personally know the perpetrator. That’s in contrast to only 7 percent of adult fraud victims. Many of these perpetrators have legitimate access to the personal information of victims.
It can be frightening to think about, but there are things parents can do to help keep their child’s identity safe and secure for years to come!
- Start training children to protect their identity in the digital world when they are young. Early training for children to properly manage their online activity will instill habits invaluable in their adulthood, reducing their risk of victimization later in life.
- Pay special attention to children who may be bullied. There is a strong relationship between fraud and bullying. Children who are struggling with these issues may also be oversharing personal information in an anonymous environment.
- Check and freeze a child’s credit. Establishing a credit freeze remains one of the most effective ways to prevent new accounts being opened in either a child or adult’s name. While there is no federal standard, many states permit parents or guardians to establish and freeze a minor’s credit.
- Actively monitor existing accounts. Combating child identity fraud requires guardians to proactively manage their child’s finances – regularly monitor activity, review statements online, and leverage account alerts, especially those that can be delivered to mobile devices.
- Keep physical documents secure. With familiar fraud especially prevalent among child identity fraud victims, protecting the personally identifiable information of children should be a priority for parents and guardians. This means keeping sensitive documents such as Social Security cards and birth certificates behind lock and key and out of reach of household visitors or residents.
- Take breach notifications and other correspondence seriously. Notification that a child’s personal information has been breached should galvanize parents and guardians to start monitoring the child’s account for unauthorized activity. Account statements and collection notices addressed to children are a clear sign of trouble and should be followed up on immediately.
- Reach out for help. Overwhelmed parents and guardians of child identity fraud victims have a variety of resources available to help them restore their child’s identity. Those who require a significant degree of assistance with the resolution process can turn to identity protection providers, while directly contacting banks and credit bureaus is among the quickest routes to closing unauthorized accounts and clearing them from the victim’s credit history.
- Find a safe location for all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information
- Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
- Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
- Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, there’s an adult in your household who might want to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a security breach.
- Pay attention to forms from school. Forms that ask for personal information may come home with your child, or you may get them through the mail or by email. Look for terms like “personally identifiable information,” “directory information,” and “opt-out.” Find out how your child’s information will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.
- Read the notices from your child’s school. Your school will send home an annual notice that explain explains your rights under FERPA, including your right to:- inspect and review your child’s education records;- approve the disclosure of personal information in your child’s records; and- ask to correct errors in the records.
- Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. Student directory information can include your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you want to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties, it’s best to put your request in writing and keep a copy for your files. If you don’t opt-out, directory information may be available to the people in your child’s class and school, and to the general public.
- Ask for a copy of your school’s policy on surveys. The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment gives you the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.
- Consider other programs that take place at the school. Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren’t formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have websites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations to find out if — and how — your child’s information will be used and shared.
- Take action if your child’s school experiences a data breach. Your child’s school or the school district may notify you of a data breach. If not, and you believe your child’s information has been compromised, contact the school to learn more. Talk with teachers, staff, or administrators about the incident and their practices. Keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board, if necessary.
- When your child turns 16, it’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report. If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.
To learn more about the warning signs of child identity theft and what to do about them, read our post on What To Do When Your Child’s Identity is Stolen.