Perhaps you take your 16-year-old to get her long-awaited driver’s license—and find her application denied because another person already has a license that uses her Social Security number (SSN). Or maybe you open your mailbox one afternoon to find a pile of bills and bank statements … all in the name of your 7-year-old son.
Child identity theft is a serious problem. As of 2015, the Federal Trade Commission reports that in each of the past three years, cases involving children have accounted for 6 percent of total identity theft complaints. However, this number could be much higher because many perpetrators are family members and this crime can easily go undetected until adulthood.
And because children are unlikely to apply for credit cards or check their credit reports until around age 18, such thefts can go undetected for years. In the meantime, by using your child’s SSN or other identifying information, a thief can fraudulently apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service or rent a place to live.
While children can fall victim to such fraud at any time of year, the initial back-to-school weeks — when countless school forms change hands and kids head off clutching new cell phones and laptop computers filled with private information — are particularly risky.
As your children return to school, take these steps to help them avoid falling victim to identity theft:
Closely read school forms: Many schools send home a stack of forms to be filled out for your children, from waivers for sports teams to emergency contact information and health forms. Find out how your child’s information will be used, whether it will be shared and with whom. Make sure that the school’s records are stored in a secure location. Know that under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the privacy of your child’s student records is protected. You have the right to inspect and review these records, approve the disclosure of personal information and ask for corrections.
Be proactive with school directory information: Schools frequently compile a student directory that contains a wide variety of personal information — including your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address and photo. Student directories are usually available to other families in the school and even to the general public. Under FERPA, you have the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties, including other families. If you do decide to opt out, be sure to put your request in writing.
Guard your child’s Social Security number: Never share your child’s SSN unless you know and trust the party who is asking for it. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. It’s often possible to use a different identifier, or only the last four digits of the SSN. Be sure to shred any documents that contain your child’s personal information before tossing them in the recycling bin.
Beware of backpack labels: Children are apt to lose things and so it’s tempting to whip out the Sharpie and write your child’s identifying information on important possessions like backpacks — which may even have house keys attached. Don’t write your home address or home phone number on the backpack’s identifying nametag — otherwise a thief could find easy entry to your home (and all the personal information it holds). Instead, just include your child’s name and your name, and a work telephone number where you can be reached.
Keep information on laptops and cell phones secure: Many kids set up their electronic devices to automatically log in to their favorite apps — Netflix, Amazon, iTunes — as well as email and social media, once they open the device. Should thieves get a hold of the device, they can gain easy access to a host of personally identifiable information, including credit card information, addresses of family members and birth dates. Explain to your children the importance of establishing a creative alpha-numeric password to unlock the device. And remind them never to store sensitive information, such as their SSN or passwords, on their cellphone or laptop.
Do a credit check at sweet 16: The FTC recommends checking to see whether your child has a credit report around the time of his or her 16th birthday. If you find one, and it includes signs of fraud or misuse, you’ll have time to rectify the situation before your child applies for a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.
If you suspect that your child’s personal information is at risk, whatever his or her age, begin by contacting each of the three nationwide credit bureaus to check for a credit report. For information on other steps to take, and advice on how to repair any damage, visit the FTC’s consumer information website.
Customers with fraud protection powered by EZShield can also be alerted to suspicious activity with account monitoring. For more information about cyber security and steps you can take to protect yourself and your family against fraud, contact EZShield or learn more in our educational center.
Toddler to Teen ID Safety Tips
- Beware of over-sharing your child’s information
- Question who needs it and how it’s stored
- Protect their SSNs — using only the last 4 digits whenever possible
- Request a credit report by age 16 — or sooner if you’re concerned
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.