September 02, 2014

Back-to-School: The ABC’s of Child Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

Back-to-school is always a busy and exciting time... especially for identity thieves.

Child identity theft is on the rise. Enrolling kids in school, signing them up for after-school programs, and giving teens their first debit card when they start high school can put their identities at risk. 

The 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report found that at least 2.5% of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 (1 in 40 households) had experienced some kind of identity fraud at some point during their child’s lifetime.

However, the numbers are likely higher because child identity theft in many cases is under-reported. Often the theft is discovered only when the child has grown up and applies for credit as a young adult.

Here are some tips on how to prevent child identity theft:  

  • Social security numbers are the most compromised piece of information. The Child Identity Fraud Report shows that 56% of respondents reported theft or misuse. The Federal Trade Commission recommends not sharing a child’s social security number unless it’s with a known and trusted organization, asking how the information will be protected and suggesting the use of an alternative identifier.
  • When providing any personally identifiable information to a school or organization, find out how sensitive documents are stored and discarded. Security experts recommend that they partner with a secure shredding company that provides locked consoles and a secure chain of custody.
  • Understand the privacy laws that safeguard personal information. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for example, gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties.
  • Store children’s personal information (including social security card, birth certificate and passport) in a lock box or locked cupboard.  
  • Shred all documents that show a child’s personal information when no longer needed rather than putting them in the garbage or recycling bin. If your workplace has a shredding program, ask if employees can bring in documents. Or, take advantage of a local community shredding event in your neighborhood.
  • Teach children to protect their personal information wherever they are but especially on social media. Never post full names, addresses, date of birth and other details.
  • Equip smartphones, laptops, and tablets with password protection. Remind everyone in the family to change their passwords frequently and to never share passwords.
  • Remember to securely dispose of hard drives and other e-media when they are out-dated or broken. Hard drive destruction is a proven way to protect information.

Learn more about data breach incidents in educational institutions and how to protect your child's identity.