Children are 51 times more likely than their parents to have their identities stolen. Children are the targets of identity thieves for a multitude of reasons. Specifically, children’s identities are more valuable to thieves because they have much longer “effective lives.” How many children check their credit reports? If an identity is not monitored for theft, then the thieves will perpetrate their crimes for a longer period. Additionally, children have untouched and unblemished credit records. A thief inherits the history of the victim. With a child, there are no defects because there isn’t a history. A stolen identity for a child can lead to a life of pain and anguish through no fault of the child. Imagine being welcomed to the “adult world” with rejection to your first job due to your criminal history? Denied to school or first apartment because of a poor credit history? These are only a few of the negative possibilities, and even worse, this can stay with your child for life. Faithfully practice the following tactics to minimize the likelihood that your child’s future will be stolen.
- check your child’s credit file
- monitor your child’s online behavior
- practice safe social media protocol
- install antivirus software on your child’s computer
- provide your child’s Social Security number
- carry your child’s Social Security card
- avoid identity theft warning signs
- access sensitive websites when using public internet
- believe credit monitoring prevents identity theft
Your child should not have a credit file. If he/she does, then there is likely an issue, and you will have to work with the credit reporting agency(s) to resolve. Make certain to check all three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
Identity thieves – like most online predators – prey on the innocence of children. Seemingly harmless information in the possession of a seasoned criminal may be all that is necessary for an identity to be stolen. Educate your children on the importance of keeping sensitive information private, and set rules for appropriate behavior.
Social media sites are an identity thief’s nirvana. Mountains of sensitive personal information are readily available. Place proper security and privacy settings. For example, do not have your child’s birth date displayed in a timeline. Do not accept friend requests from those you don’t know. Only friends are able to view your posts. Ask the following question: would I provide the following information to a complete stranger? If the answer is no, then do not post it on social media sites.
Your computer may become infected due to the sites your child visits. There are different terms and tactics to “infect” your computer, like malware, trojan horses and keyloggers, but most of these viruses seek to gain personal information in order to commit identity theft. A quality antivirus program that is regularly updated is necessary to prevent, detect and remove viruses.
Most organizations, like Boys/Girls Scouts, daycare, school or recreational sports, that request your child’s SSN do not actually need it. Before you provide a SSN, ask the following questions:
- Why do you need it?
- How will you use it?
- How long will you keep it?
- How will you protect it?
Only if there is legitimate need for the organization to have your child’s Social Security number, and all of your questions have been addressed properly, should you provide it.
It is the main objective of most purse snatchers to gain personal information in order to commit identity theft. The cash in the purse is typically a bonus, but the real prize is a stolen identity. A child’s Social Security card is the super bonus. Store your child’s Social Security card in a safe place, where you know it is safe from people getting it.
It is common for parents to discard and disregard warning signs because you are certain your child has never used the services. The following are typical warning signs:
- Calls from collections agencies, bills, or offer from credit card companies
- Your child or family is denied government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s SSN
- After you file a tax return listing your child’s name and SSN, you get a notice from the IRS that the same information is listed on another return
- Your child gets a notice from the IRS stating he/she did not pay taxes
If you disregard these signs, then it will become a much deeper hole to dig out of. The thief will continue to use your child’s identity until the criminal is forced to stop. Additionally, when a thief understand countermeasures are deployed, then he/she is likely to move on to the next target as this presents too much risk.
If your child is using public internet, like at Starbucks, then he/she should not be accessing sensitive websites such as social media or financial websites. It is simple for thieves to “sidejack” the session and acquire passwords to their accounts. Additionally, shoulder surfers hang out in these venues, and they present an unnecessary risk.
Parents are often lulled into a false sense of security with credit monitoring services. By their very nature, credit monitoring services alert victims after-the-fact, if at all. While credit monitoring may be an important detection component of an overall identity theft protection strategy, it has never prevented a single instance of identity theft.
Child identity theft is an enormous black market business, and it is rapidly growing. It is an unfortunate byproduct of the electronic age. The good news is that by practicing the advice contained in this article, most of the instances of child identity theft can be prevented. This is a case where an ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure.