It’s not just adults who are victims of identity theft. Kids and teenagers are also at risk.
Information stored on the Internet — birth dates, passwords, home addresses, credit card numbers, phone and Social Security numbers — can all be stolen and used for fun and profit by identity thieves.
Fraudsters target young people because they have clean credit reports, and because they know the crime may go undetected for years.
Young people usually don’t find out about ID theft until they apply for a driver’s license or get a credit card when they are 17 or 18. By then, damage has already been done.
A study by the Federal Trade Commission shows that teenagers account for 6 percent of ID theft cases every year, while the Identity Theft Center reports that 1 million kids were victims of ID theft last year.
So what are the proactive and preventative measures parents can take to keep a child safe from identity theft?
Know where your child’s data is stored or being used
Where is your child’s identity being stored or used? Their school is an obvious starting point, so it’s worth knowing how the school protects the large amount of information they have on students.
The same applies for other facilities that hold information on your child such as medical and dental practices, or after school clubs and societies.
What are the privacy policies of each company? How do they secure data?
The information they hold is likely to include directory information, home addresses and phone numbers, and the results of any surveys. This is all valuable information and the type of data an ID fraudster would need to operate.
Each organization might have their own privacy policies that differ from each other so it’s worth checking.
It is useful for you to know that there are strict federal guidelines on how schools manage student data. If you want to find out more check out the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Get a free annual credit report for your child
The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you check your child’s credit report when they are about to turn 16.
Getting a copy of your child’s credit report is a chance to monitor their profile and ensure it has not be used by fraudsters.
The three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, are obliged to provide a free credit report annually for anyone, including children.
Reporting agencies may require your child’s Social Security number, birth certificate and proof of address in order to provide the credit report.
A clean report is reassuring but it does not mean your child is not a victim, as a credit report can’t show every kind of identity theft.
To get your child’s credit report for free choose any of the reports available from AnnualCreditReport.com – a website recommended by the FTC.
See also: Best credit monitoring services
Improve device security
Today many kids have access to multiple devices. Smartphones, tablets, home desktops or laptops and school learning machines. Ensure that these devices are kept up-to-date with the latest software patches and updates. This helps protect against personal information falling into the wrong hands.
A top-of-the-line antivirus should always be installed, updated and enabled while on the web, even if gaming is your teen’s hobby. Many antivirus services have smart Gamer Modes that protect while they let you play and still filter out any malicious software a computer might pick up when on the web. They also block unsuitable websites, and even quarantine viruses that would otherwise compile passwords and usernames before sending them to the hacker who coded the virus.
The IoT (The internet of things) also means gaming devices or smart speakers routinely connect to the internet and can provide information that could be intercepted by hackers.
Beware that online gaming communities on the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox platforms are popular with teenagers but can pose a danger. You can play, chat and interact with people from all over the world. It is not unknown for scammers to use fake identities in gaming communities to get personal information such as an email address, date of birth, or account passwords.
Use parental control settings
Parental controls are a group of settings on a device or app that give you control over what content your child can see. Parental controls are really useful in protecting your child online as it limits the type of websites or activities they can engage with online, therefore helping to minimise their risk of encountering dangerous websites or interacting with fraudsters.
Parental controls and other content management features are often included in:
- Home internet / broadband provider preferences
- Mobile carrier preferences
- Smartphone settings
- Search engine settings
- Entertainment app settings: YouTube, Netflix, etc.,
- Social media websites and apps
- Web browser settings
- Operating system accounts and settings
- Dedicated parental control software and apps
Alongside the parental controls built into each website, app or device you can also find standalone free or paid software. Parental control software can be downloaded onto devices such as a PC, Apple Mac, iOS or Android phone or tablet.
Parental control software can help parents prevent ID theft in a number of ways.
Manage Calls & texts – Know all the details from kids phone calls and text messages including the incoming cell number, contact book name, date, time, call length and more important details. Ensure your kids are not engaging with unknown individuals which may be trying to steal information.
Monitor browsing history – View what kind of content kids are browsing on internet and ensure they are not being tricked into visiting fake websites.
Block Websites & Apps – Parents can only allow access to specific well-known websites to reduce the threat of fraud.
Sometimes parents can be put off from setting up parental controls as they think the controls will be complicated to use. In fact, most parental control providers make it really simple for parents with easy-to-use interfaces.
Use identity theft protection services
Identity theft protection services provide a way to monitor your identity for potential theft, and therefore limit any damage that can be done. Identity theft protection services are offered by several companies and monitor information about you on a deeper level when compared with credit report monitoring.
Identity theft protection services cross-reference databases for personal information that is new or false, in order to provide a warning of identity theft.
Identity theft protection services will alert you on details such as:
- New arrest records or court orders,
- Requests to cash a check in your name
- New payday loan applications in your name
- Online black market website activity
- Orders for wireless services, cable TV or utilities,
- If a new social media account is setup in your name
Many identity theft service providers also offer family plans so you can cover yourself and any children you are responsible for under one account.
As avid social media users teens can be easy targets for fraudsters, because their personal data is easier to access.
Checking your child’s Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and other social accounts is a good way to ensure they are not unintentionally sharing vital information that fraudsters will use to verify their identity on financial application documents.
While it may not be easy to access and monitor social media accounts depending on the age of your child, as a parent you can talk to your kids and make sure they are aware of the dangers. Warn your child to never provide any personal data over social media, to block anyone who insists on obtaining personal information, and to report anything suspicious to you or the website operator.
Ask your child to adjust the privacy settings on each of their social media accounts to their information is private, and only visible to their friends.
Be careful in the real world
The sad truth is that not all identity theft threats come from the online world or from strangers.
It’s just as important to be careful in the physical world. Teach your children to always protect their personal financial information such as passwords and ATM pin numbers, even from friends and family members.
Teens trust their friends more than anyone else, but they have to learn that some stuff shouldn’t be shared. At some point your child might place their trust in a person who decides to use this information against them. Teach your teens to protect their personal information.
It’s not just the obvious tools such as antivirus or private browsers that can help protect your child from identity theft.
Another good tip is to have your child download the app for their bank account (once they are old enough to have one) and encourage them to check their bank statement on the app daily for any unauthorized transactions.
As a parent you can check up on their monthly printed statements and ensure everything looks legitimate and no one else is using their account.
You can also take greater care with papers that contain Social Security numbers or sensitive information and ensure that it is shredded.
You should also be extremely selective with whom you share your child’s Social Security number. It’s best not to give it out to anyone, even trusted sources such as doctors who ask for this information. Doctors do not actually need it as they are not extending credit to your child.
Try to ensure all the people with access to information about your child, such as landlords and employers, have adequate privacy policies in place.
It’s worth trying to make sure your family’s mail is not easily intercepted and using a private mailbox for your letters rather than a shared one where possible. For old mail that you want to throw away, ensure that you shred the paperwork first.
Educate your child on risks
Educating your child on some of the dangerous of ID theft is a powerful step towards protecting them.
Explain the dangers of phishing and email scams.
- Phishing is when a hacker sets up a website that looks almost identical to a real website you visit often. The real website usually requires a username, password and sometimes even a credit or debit card number. Instead of a virus that records personal information, the site is a dummy that simply tricks the victim into providing their information straight to the hacker.
- Many of these scams come in the form of emails that contain links. Never click on a link within an email if you don’t know the sender. If you or your child has it on good authority that the link is not a scam, still err on the side of caution and never enter your personal information within any fields associated with that link.
As teenagers spend money online or visit sites to take quizzes or input personal information, ensure they check for the secure padlock in the browser URL bar before they continue to use the website. The lock indicates the site uses encryption to keep their data safe.
Online quizzes pushed on social media and via search engines can be designed to appeal to teens – and are commonly used by fraudsters for stealing secret answers such as a favorite color or mother’s maiden name. If your child likes to do these activities online, try to ensure they are engaging with a well known and reputable company.
Alongside educating your children of the dangers, also provide the tools that help them to educate themselves on matters surrounding ID theft and why they are important.
There are lots of online resources aimed at kids. Even big banks and credit unions have created videos, tutorials and easy to follow primers. Check out the following resources:
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies has used gamification to encourage youngsters to learn about the topic
- The San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center provides tutorials for teenagers
- LifeLock monitors the trends of cyber and physical crime associated with identity theft.
Keep passwords secure
Children often don’t use strong password security on their devices, leaving them unprotected. It’s also not uncommon for devices to be left unattended where information could be accessed by someone else.
Teach your child the importance of strong unique passwords on devices and for their online user accounts, so if there is a hack or leak on one website, it protects their other accounts from being accessed. Keep an eye out in the news for reports of major security breaches. If one of your the companies your child has an account with is targeted by hackers, ensure they change passwords on other accounts. If your child uses the same or similar passwords on other accounts, hackers will use the information they have to exploit them and gain access. Changing passwords after a breach helps prevent this.
Downloading password-protection apps such as LastPass, Dashlane or RoboForm lets you use unique, random passwords for each account, mitigating the damage a thief can do if one of your passwords is leaked or breached.
Warning signs that your child’s identity has been stolen
What are the obvious warning signs that something is wrong? According to the FTC you should look out for things such as mail arriving with a credit card or loan offer addressed to your child, getting a notice from the IRS saying taxes have not been paid on the child’s account, getting debt collection calls from companies you don’t recognise, or being unable to claim benefits as the child’s social security number is already being used.
Why some kids are more vulnerable than others
A report by the Identity Theft Resource Center says that foster children are more at risk for identity theft than other young people.
Sometimes this is related to parental financial problems, or from data related to the child being passed to multiple foster homes and child protection agencies, leaving more opportunities for data interception.