If you think that identity theft only happens to adults, think again. Sure, adults, seniors, and others are more likely to have their identity stolen, but here’s a statistic that may shock you: each year, over 1 million children are victims of identity theft. Yes, that’s over 1 million children each year. Why would anyone steal a child’s identity? Well, most parents are signing up their newborn children with Social Security today. They invest money for future college expenses and often put it in the child’s name for tax purposes. But that becomes problematic because the theft probably won’t be discovered for many years when the child goes out to buy a car, rent an apartment or apply for a credit card. That gives the cybercrooks years of a head start.
1 How does this happen?
Child identity theft has its origins in the same way that adult identity theft happens, with a few additional openings. For example, many schools maintain records of their students, which includes personal information that may include Social Security numbers. Even if they’re not required, the school database contains lots of personal information about the child and the parents, like the place of employment, income, phone numbers, and more. Hackers and cyber crooks know this and have started to target schools for their wealth of personal information. That’s why parents should know their child’s school policy when it comes to requesting and maintaining private information. Parents have a mandated right to know what information is held and shared by their child’s school under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The act gives parents the right to know what info the school keeps on their child.
Here’s why this is important to parents. Within the act, there’s a notice that states that: “Schools may disclose, without consent, “directories” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, Social Security number, and dates of attendance.” As you can see, school databases can give up a child’s birth date, name, phone number, and more – all a cyber thief needs to steal an identity. But there’s good news for parents because the FERPA also states that parents can request that the school NOT SHARE any of this information about their child with anyone. Schools must honor this request from parents within a reasonable amount of time. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), parents should also monitor any other personally identifiable information (PII) related to their childlike surveys, emails, forms, and other correspondence from their child’s school.
2 Other Avenues for Hackers
School records are only one entry point for cyberthieves. Many bad actors scour people search sites to gather all types of personal information about the child and the family members. This provides avenues for hacking personal and financial information or setting up fraudulent credit accounts and Social Security accounts. Another reason children are so vulnerable to identity theft is that they’re not aware of many of the online risks. They’re emotionally vulnerable, and often to make friends, they give up all types of information that should never be shared online. That includes their birthdate, their phone numbers, where their parents work, when they’ll be out of town, and more, which is all the type of information that a cyberthief would need to do all kinds of harm and damage. Here’s something else to consider: 60% of all child identity theft is done by someone that the child and/or the family knows. And 33% of those thefts are done by family friends. While it’s sad, it’s a wake-up call for parents to teach their kids to be vigilant when they’re on the Internet. Have them learn the warning signs of phishing, how to properly use social media, and other essential safety measures when they’re online. That includes creating unique passwords and never using the same one twice.
3What you Need to Do
There are some steps you can take to protect your child from identity theft. Monitor their Social Security account for any activity that looks suspicious. Also, parents should monitor their child’s credit history to be sure nobody is opening accounts in their name. Check all of the major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Run a free credit report using annualcreditreport.com. A good strategy for parents is to freeze their child’s credit – after all, they won’t be opening any new credit accounts for years.
Another critical strategy is to remove all unauthorized personal information from people’s search sites like WhitePages, PeopleFinders, Intelius, and others. However, you should be aware that there are over 100 people search sites, and each one has its policies and procedures for removing information and opting out of the site. This could end up being extremely hard and time-consuming to do manually, and unless you want another “full-time job,” forget trying to do it yourself. Hiring an expert to handle this can get quite expensive, simply for the amount of time required to complete it. Instead, use OneRep, an automated tool that will automatically find every person searching the site and using its sophisticated algorithms to remove all of your child’s personal information from those sites.
Protecting your child against identity theft is critically essential. If a cyber crook ends up stealing your child’s identity and opens accounts in his or her name, it will hurt them years later as they apply for college, apply for credit, or search for employment. By being vigilant while they’re young and protecting their personal information, you’ll be helping them both now and in the future.