Please note: This is an update to an article previously published by Equifax in August 2014.
Children are often easy targets for identity thieves because they have no credit history. This makes it easy for thieves to use children’s Social Security numbers to open credit accounts or commit synthetic identity theft (fraud using a fake identity). Because parents may not regularly check their children’s credit reports—or check them at all—the crime may go undetected for years.
Parents need to be concerned about the threat of identity theft. Children may put themselves at risk sharing their information in person or online, so it’s important to help them understand the dangers of doing so.
Keep the following suggestions in mind when you talk to your children about protecting their personal information:
- Teach your children what qualifies as sensitive information.
It’s hard to protect yourself if you do not know what is acceptable to share and what could put you at risk. Have a conversation with your children about the sensitive nature of their Social Security number, full name, date of birth and address. These may be the first pieces of information your children memorize, but they should also be closely guarded. If your children are old enough, consider explaining why this information is important to their financial future.
- Help your children learn to politely refuse requests for personal information.
Your children don’t have to comply if an adult asks for an address or Social Security number. Help them find a comfortable way to say “no” to giving out personal information.
If your children are active on social media, monitor their profile information to protect their online activity and set clear rules for what is appropriate to share. When your children must provide sensitive personal details, help them identify information that they could use instead of their sensitive information, such as the last four digits of their Social Security number instead of all nine digits.
- Help your children protect their devices and accounts with appropriate passwords.
If you protect a smartphone with a password, there’s at least one boundary between an identity thief and your children’s information, which is important if your children often use smartphones with apps that store their personal data. Together, you should set a password on the smartphone and consider also installing a security app which will wipe the device if it is stolen.
If your children use social media sites, make sure those accounts are password protected as well. Explain to your children that their passwords should not be shared with friends or other adults. A study from the Pew Research Center shows 19 percent of teens, or nearly 1 in 5, has shared a password with a friend. Among teens who use two or more social media sites, 23 percent report sharing a password.
In addition, tell your children to make sure they are accessing websites with a secure connection. A secure website has a lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with “https.”
- Give your children a designated area to store sensitive documents.
After your children learn to recognize sensitive information, they need to know how to securely store it. Providing a space for your children to store their important information, such as a designated filing cabinet, may give them a sense of responsibility.
When it’s time to throw out old documents, teach your children to never toss them in the trash. Because thieves often look through garbage for sensitive information, it’s important to use a crosscut shredder to dispose of unnecessary sensitive papers.
- Educate your children on common Internet scams.
Once your children are old enough to have their own email address, they will also be susceptible to common Internet scams. One example is phishing, where a fraudster sends an email that requests personal information or directs a person to a website to verify his or her password or information. Fraudsters often create fake email messages that contain logos and language from real, reputable sites. Review ways to detect fake emails with your child and teach them that if they doubt an email’s authenticity, they should delete it without clicking on the links.
Encourage your children to only email people they already know in person. Teach them that they should never meet with someone that they’ve only connected with online.
- Teach your children the value of checking their credit report.
As your children mature, it will be in their best interest to monitor their own financial accounts. Explain to them that checking their credit report is one of the most reliable ways to determine if they are the victim of identity theft.
Each year, your children are entitled to receive one free copy of their credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com. The longer identity theft goes undetected, the more difficult it is to fix. By checking their credit reports regularly, you and your children can spot errors early on.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.