The back-to-school bell has rung! Many of you have long checked off picking up notebooks, backpacks, and pencils from theback-to-school to-do list. But, what about checking the safety of your kids’ identities? Before you send your little darlings off to board the school bus, be sure to take some extra precautions to protect them from becoming future identity theft victims.
For many families, “back to school” involves a fast and furious flurry of forms that must be filled out for schools, sports teams, and other activity clubs. Older kids heading to college are required to complete paperwork for living in dormitories or off-campus apartments. Much to the delight of identity thieves, any of these documents can be a proverbial jackpot of sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) that contain birth dates, Social Security numbers, and medical information.
As long as there are schools and universities, there will always be the need for them to collect and store students’ sensitive information. As the education sector makes a shift towards paperless data collection and storage, this can lead to increased chances of security flaws and vulnerabilities like data breaches. In December of 2015, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) predicted that child identity theft may get worse in 2016 before it gets better. Indeed, the ITRC’s June 2016 call center stats demonstrated that child identity theft complaints almost tripled over the previous month.
It’s a sad reality that children under the age of 18 are at a greater risk for identity theft. When it comes to their identities, minors have a blank slate – including clean credit reports and inactive Social Security numbers – making them extremely attractive targets for identity thieves. Imagine one mother’s dismay when she recently discovered that an identity thief had been using her 15-year-old daughter’s Social Security number to get a job. Worse still, her younger son had already been a victim of identity theft (who was 2 years old at the time his Social Security number was stolen). Child identity theft can go undetected for years, since children generally don’t have credit reports or monthly bills to check regularly for errors or inconsistencies. Children who are victims of identity theft may be totally unaware of any problems until they are older and later discover issues when they apply for student loans or their first job. It is this that makes child identity theft so appealing to thieves: the opportunity to accumulate huge amounts of debt using a clean credit record over a prolonged period of time. The double whammy for the victims is that statistically the fraudsters are not necessarily strangers but more typically family members or close friends.
Parents can help protect their children from potential identity theft by putting a freeze on their child’s credit report with the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. This step prevents any new creditor from being able to access a child’s credit report without a parent going into the system to ‘unfreeze’ it – which usually stops an account from being opened. While most children don’t have a credit report in the first place, given the dramatic spike in child identity theft cases, a growing number of states have enacted legislation to better protect victims. Currently there are 22 states with laws in place that allow parents and guardians to place a freeze on the credit report of a minor child.
Follow these additional tips to help keep your kids’ identities safe:
- Give out your child’s Social Security number only if absolutely required, even at doctors’ offices. Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card in your wallet – keep it in a secured location at home.
- Check to see if your child’s sports team has conducted a background check on the staff who have access to your child’s PII before handing over a birth certificate or Social Security card. Ask where the forms will be stored and ensure they are either shredded or returned to you at the end of the season. If you’re uncomfortable about providing PII, write “information to follow.”
- Discuss how to handle personal information with your children. Teach them to never disclose personal information over the phone and practice safety when checking email or using the internet.
- Be careful how much information you post about your children (including their birthdays) on social media sites.
- College students between the ages of 18 to 24 are at an even higher risk of identity theft as they typically live in shared spaces like dorms or apartments. Be sure your college-goers practice these good habits:
- Shred pre-approved credit offers. Many students simply throw away unopened offers, making any college dumpster a very desirable bulls-eye for identity thieves.
- Don’t leave important papers lying around – lock them up in a safe.
- Regularly review bank statements.
- Always protect computers/laptops and create strong passwords. Roommates may be trustworthy, but their friends or relatives may not be.
- Use only secure mailboxes for outgoing mail.
- Don’t store login information on cell phones.
While nothing can totally prevent child identity theft from happening, a comprehensive identity protection program like Iris can further mitigate its risks. Iris identity protection is perfect for companies looking to protect their employees and members with affordable and fully-customizable family, couple and individual plans. So, as they always say in school, be sure to follow the golden rule and be sure to protect your kids’ identities just as securely as you would protect your own. Learn more about how you can help protect what matters.