Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a minor's personal information to commit fraud. A thief may steal and use a child's information to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, car loans, or a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering, and undoing the damage resulting from the theft of a child's identity can be a challenge.
Adults can monitor their own credit reports every few months to see if someone has misused their information and order a fraud alert or freeze on their credit files to stymie further misuse. But most parents and guardians don't expect their youngster to have a credit file, and as a result, rarely request a child's credit report, let alone review it for accuracy.
A thief who steals a child's information may use it for many years before the crime is discovered. The victim may not learn about the theft until many years later, when applying for a loan, apartment or job.
Parents do a lot to protect their children from physical harm, but protecting their personal information is also important. Here's how:
- Keep all documents that show a child's personal information safely locked up.
- Share your child's Social Security Number only when you know and trust the other party.
- Before you share personal information on the internet, make sure you have a secure connection.
- Use a computer with updated antivirus and firewall protection.
- If you use a password to sign into a website, log out of the site when you're done on that site.
- Limit the chances that your child's information will be stolen or misused at school.
Your trash could be a treasure trove of information for an identity thief. Before you get rid of information on paper or online, make sure no one else can use it. Shred letters, forms, and other papers that include your child's personal information before you throw them out. Delete electronic computer files that you no longer need, and empty your online trash or recycle bin.
Your computer can hold enormous amounts of information, and it's crucial that it stays secure. Talk to your child about best practices for computer security, including:
- Using "strong" passwords – those with at least eight characters, as well as numbers and symbols
- Keeping passwords private
- Knowing the risk of sharing files through peer to peer software, which may include giving someone access to more information on your computer than you want to share
- Using antivirus software that updates automatically
- Being alert to phishing scams, where criminals send an email, text, or pop-up message that looks like it's from a legitimate organization
Talk with your child regularly about the privacy settings on social media sites and what information and photos to share on them. For example, it's not a great idea to show photos with school or team uniforms, list birth dates or specific locations, or show background settings that are easy to identify.