Just about every parent or guardian has heard horrible stories of identity theft. What many parents and guardians don’t realize, however, is that children are far more at risk for identity theft when compared to adults—parents sometimes miss the fact their child’s identity has been stolen because it can be more than a decade before a child tries to delve into his credit history and establish his own new accounts. With children more vulnerable to this type of crime, safeguarding your child is a must to ensure his future financial stability.
- Nix carrying around personal information. It’s tempting to carry your child’s personal information (e.g., a Social Security card) with you, but in the event you lose your purse or wallet, someone else potentially can use that information to do everything from open credit lines to apply for a job. It’s best to commit the numbers you need for your child to memory, but if you must write them down, keep them in a secure location such as a safe or use a heavily encrypted document on your computer.
- Watch what comes in the mail. As your child gets older, he might start getting a few credit card offers and the like. That’s normal and happens as companies try to drum up new lifetime customers from the next generation. Still, there’s no reason for a toddler to be flooded with this type of mail, and you shouldn’t notice a sudden surge in the number of envelopes your child gets. If your child is getting this type of attention, contact the companies, inform them your child is a minor and get them taken off the companies’ mailing list. Check that no one has opened an account in your child’s name, and if your child already has an account with a company, check that all charges are legitimate.
- Watch what you put in the trash. Unneeded credit card offers and similar documents can contain personal information about your child, as well as account numbers. Instead of just tossing these into the wastebasket, shred them using a crosscut shredder (crosscut shredders cut both horizontally and vertically, creating smaller pieces that are harder to reassemble).
- Ask questions. Organizations and companies sometimes request information about your child such as your child’s Social Security number. This can be completely legitimate, but don’t be afraid to ask the company or organization why they need the information. If you aren’t comfortable with their request, ask if there is some other information you could provide that would suit their needs. Always ask about the security measures the company has in place for the information.
- Watch your child’s credit history. Adults easily can watch their credit history by requesting free copies of their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. For legal reasons, the Children’s Online Protection Act restricts how much and what kind of information third parties can collect on individuals 13 years old and under, so you can’t really get a credit report for a young child the way you would for yourself. What you can do is contact the credit bureaus and make an inquiry on your child’s behalf. They can tell you if a credit report exists—if one does (there really isn’t a reason for one at such a young age), you’ll want to follow up and make sure your child isn’t a victim of identity theft. A legitimate credit report might exist for those age 14 to 18, but as reported by Bob Sullivan of MSNBC, most kids this age still shouldn’t have anything on record.
- Secure the computer. With kids using technology such as laptops on a regular basis, it’s easier than ever for them to transfer information from one person to another. Install a good antivirus program to catch logging programs that steal your child’s information or monitor computer activity, and always use a secured Internet connection. Teach your child to log out of sites each time they visit, and talk about how people can get your child’s information through scams, peer to peer sites and social networking sites.