Identity theft is a serious crime that could go undetected until a child is old enough to apply for a first credit card or rent an apartment.
“It’s important to ask why an organization needs your child’s full name, date of birth and Social Security number,” says Trey Loughran, president of the Personal Solutions unit at Equifax.
“This is your child’s identity— it’s something parents should not give away casually, especially as the incidence of identity theft continues to grow among Americans of all ages.”
Because children have a blank slate with no debt or credit history, they are often targeted by identity thieves.
A 2012 study by Javelin Strategy & Research, for example, found that at least 2.5 percent of U.S. households with children under the age 18 experienced child identity fraud. Researchers also concluded that child identity theft is under-reported, since the crime may not be discovered until the child is older.
In order to help prevent child identity theft and safeguard your children’s personal information during the back-to-school rush, consider these nine tips:
1. Only give out a child’s Social Security number if you have no other option. If you are asked to provide a child’s Social Security number, first ask why it is needed, if there’s another way your child can be identified, and how the sensitive information will be protected.
2. Before providing any personal information, ask how the school or organization stores and discards sensitive documents.
3. Carry your children’s Social Security cards, birth certificates or passports with you only when necessary.
4. When you are not using these documents, keep them locked in a safe place.
5. Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy all documents with your children’s full name and other identifying details, including date of birth. If you have a large number of documents after the back-to-school frenzy, consider attending a local shredding event, where you can bring your documents and shred them in bulk.
6. Make sure that your children use passwords to protect their smartphones and tablets. Educate them about the importance of changing passwords frequently and never sharing their passwords with others.
7. Talk to your children about the importance of protecting their personal information on social media. Children should never post their full name, address, date of birth or other personal details on social media websites.
8. Teach your older children who use credit, debit and ATM cards to check their statements each month and to be discreet when keying in PINs.
9. Consider using a credit monitoring and identity theft protection product for your family, such as the Equifax Complete Family Plan, which can help protect the identities of two adults and up to four minor children in one comprehensive plan.
By taking proper precautions with your children’s sensitive information, you can help protect against identity theft.