Back-to-school season usually means new notebooks, carpool arrangements, and after-school activities. While you may not be thinking about identity theft during this time, the new round of permission slips and directories could put your child’s personal information at risk.
Many schools request student data in order to update the school directory and add to a student’s medical records, and many sports clubs require this information before students are allowed to participate. These routine documents that require your child’s information, such as their Social Security number or date of birth, could cause an identity theft nightmare if they end up in the wrong hands.
Why do identity thieves target children?
Children’s clean credit records make it easy for identity thieves to use their information for a variety of purposes, including applying for a loan, setting up utility services, opening bank and credit card accounts, applying for government benefits, and even renting an apartment. Because parents generally don’t check their children’s credit reports, the crime can go unnoticed for years.
Identity thieves commonly use children’s information in what’s known as “synthetic identity theft.” This occurs when an identity thief pairs one person’s Social Security number with a different name in order to create a fake identity.
As a parent, you are the first line of defense for your child’s credit. You can help protect your child from identity theft by keeping the following tips in mind:
1. Keep your child’s documents in a secure location.
Store your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate, and passport in a safe spot. Misplacing these documents or making them easily accessible in your home may put your child at risk. Often, a relative or someone familiar to the victim is the one who commits identity theft. According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center’s 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report, 27 percent of respondents reported knowing the individual responsible for the crime.
(Read more: The Basics of Child Identity Theft)
2. Don’t give away your child’s personal information unless absolutely necessary.
While you will likely be asked for your child’s Social Security number at the doctor’s office, you may not have to comply. Consider asking to use a different identifier, or find out if you can provide only the last four digits of the Social Security number.
Familiarize yourself with the laws that protect your child’s information, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt out of sharing directory information with third parties. Directories can include your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you don’t opt out, the directory may be available to the people in your child’s class and school, and to the general public. Make sure to put your opt-out request in writing and keep a copy for your records.
Some schools are required by state mandate to record personal information. If that’s the case, ask how the information will be protected and who will be able to access it.
3. Educate your kids about sharing online and protecting passwords.
As classrooms become tech-friendly, there are more opportunities for kids to put their information at risk by sharing it online. Monitor your child’s online activity and set clear rules for what information he or she can share online. Show your child how to use the privacy settings on social media websites and how to protect a smartphone with a password. Help your child understand that he or she can politely refuse people who may request personal information, whether online or in person.
If you are required to share your child’s documents or information online, make sure you are accessing a website with a secure connection. A secure website typically has a URL that begins with “https” and a lock icon in the address bar.
4. Use a crosscut shredder to dispose of any trash containing your child’s personal information.
After you’ve established a secure place to store documents, you may want to periodically destroy any unnecessary papers with your child’s personal information. Thieves are known to go through trash for documents that contain sensitive personal information, so use a crosscut shredder to ensure they are unreadable. If you do not have access to a shredder, attend a local shredding event where residents can shred documents in bulk.
5. Monitor your child’s credit.
Left undetected, child identity theft can be extremely harmful to your child’s financial health. You can help to mitigate the impact of identity theft by taking steps to monitor your child’s credit report. For additional protection, you may be able to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on his or her account.
6. Consider a credit monitoring product.
Credit monitoring products give you regular access to your credit reports and credit scores from at least one of the three national CRAs. These products monitor your credit files and will alert you to key changes in your file. Some products also offer identity theft insurance and assistance should you or your child fall victim to identity theft.
If not addressed, an adversely impacted credit record could potentially prevent your son or daughter from receiving student or auto loans or from leasing an apartment. The longer identity theft goes undetected, the more difficult it may be able to resolve its impact. Monitoring your children’s credit early on is one tactic that may help to better protect their future.
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