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In our cyber-connected world, we’re increasingly at risk of data breaches, hackers, phishing scams, and all manner of identity theft. While many adults have learned to keep their Social Security number protected and to not give out personal information over the internet or phone, a new victim of identity theft and fraud is on the rise—our children.
Children are at risk because they have a clean slate. They have no credit history or debts, and that makes them an attractive target to identity thieves and scam artists. People are looking to rebuild their life with a fresh start, and a child’s clean credit report may provide them with that new (albeit fraudulent) beginning.
In 2011, more than 19,000 child identity theft complaints were reported to the Federal Trade Commission, compared with about 6,000 cases in 2003. And, a 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab study on child identity theft looked at identity scans of 40,000 children and found that 10.2 percent had had someone else use their Social Security numbers.
Some perpetrators of child identity theft are friends and family members looking to get around their own bad credit ratings. According to the CyLab report, other primary causes of identity theft can be traced to illegal immigration (to obtain false ID for employment) and organized crime and financial fraud.
Criminals will search for Social Security numbers and run checks to see if the numbers have been used to obtain credit. When they find an unused number, they’ve hit the jackpot. Such numbers—and other personal information—can then be sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Even if you think your child’s Social Security card is protected in your safety deposit box, you might be surprised at the activities that can place his or her personal identification at risk.
According to Marietta Jelks, consumer action handbook manager for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, children are online more, and they don’t understand the consequences of certain actions. “They’re giving out private information like their phone number or address, and [they] don’t think about the negative implications. They’re not reading privacy statements,” says Jelks.
You trust your children’s doctor’s office and school with their health and safety, but you don’t know what such agencies are doing with your family’s personal information. If you submit a form when you see the doctor or sign your child up for an extracurricular activity, you don’t know who is seeing the information and how it’s kept or destroyed. Jelks also says that parents are placing their children at greater risk when they carry around children’s Social Security cards without keeping track of the materials.
What kind of personal information could put your child at risk for identity theft?
As your children become teenagers and may have jobs, bank accounts, and email addresses, educate them on the importance of protecting their personal information. While your children are growing up and finding their identity, help them out and make sure to protect their credit and financial identity.
How can you protect your family and children from identity theft?
You can lock up all your paperwork and request that everyone in your life shred every piece of paper with your name on it, but sometimes identity thieves will still find a way to slip through the cracks.
Maryland is considering legislation to become the first state with a law to protect a child’s credit report. This law would allow parents or guardians to create a credit file for a child and immediately freeze it. If the credit report attached to your child’s Social Security number is frozen, an identity thief can’t open credit under your child’s name.
Until more states consider legislation to protect children in this way, you can take action for yourself. The new Equifax Complete™ Family Plan helps families protect themselves from the growing problem of child identity theft.
If you currently protect yourself with the Equifax Complete Premier Plan, you’ll be familiar with the offerings available to you:
The new Equifax Complete™ Family Plan includes all the above features, but it’s not just for your personal use. You can now add one adults and up to four minor children to this plan.
Have you or your children been victims of identity theft? Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover what to do if you’ve become a victim and ways to protect yourself at the doctor’s office and at tax time. Please leave your questions and comments below.
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