Alicia is a typical five-year-old: she’ll start kindergarten in the fall, loves finger painting and dreams about visiting Disney World. She also has five credit cards in her name.
Alicia is among the growing numbers of children victimized by identity theft, which is on the rise among children and has actually doubled in the past year for those under the age of five, according to a recent child identity theft report.
For would-be identity thieves, children are ideal victims. They are a blank slate without credit cards, financial obligations or loans. And since a five-year old like Alicia is a least a decade away from having her own financial history, it’s unlikely that her family will know she’s been a victim until years later when she is unable to open a checking account, secure a college loan or is inexplicably denied unemployment.
There are important steps you can take to protect the identities of your children—regardless of their age. Here are a few ways to get started:
Get smart about Social Security numbers: Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card in your wallet and only share the number with trusted parties who have privacy safeguards in place (you can always ask them to use another identifier for your child). Shred all documents that contain this number before recycling or throwing them away.
Know what information your school shares. Be sure to understand what sort of information your school discloses about your child, and get up to speed on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which gives you the right to opt out of directories with personally identifiable information (ask your school how you can opt out).
Take technology precautions. Make sure your home computer has updated antivirus and firewall protection, and don’t send out personal or financial information via an unsecured wireless connection. You should also take care to limit what you share on the Internet, including seemingly innocuous “birth announcements” on Twitter or Facebook.
Talk to kids about online privacy. It’s critical that you have a talk with older children about online privacy—things like password safety, the risks of file-sharing software like Dropbox, phishing scams and unfamiliar “friends” on social media sites.
Monitor your child’s identity. To monitor whether there’s been any activity, you can ask for a credit report from each of the three national credit reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Check as often as the law allows you to do it for free (typically once a year). Or contact credit card bureaus and request a manual Social Security match, which will help you discover whether your child has a credit history—a red flag for identity theft.
These simple steps can go a long way in preventing you and your children from a grueling identity theft restoration process. To be sure, safeguarding personal information is no less important than all the other things you do to protect the safety and well-being of your kids.
Disclaimer: The author is affiliated with Allstate Car Insurance. SocialMoms was not compensated in any way for this article. This article was edited by SocialMoms staff to meet our editorial and quality guidelines.
Photo by VisualPanic