Protecting Your Child's Personal Information at School Is a Critical Step to Prevent Fraud
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Protecting Your Child's Personal Information at School Is a Critical Step to Prevent Fraud

Many parents don't realize just how important it is to be vigilant with a child's personal and sensitive information at school until it's too late

July 21, 2021

For parents, the beginning of a new school year usually means filling out registration forms, health forms, emergency contact forms, and so on. This being said, parents should be aware that many school forms require personal and sensitive information that could be used to commit fraud and identity theft, all in the name of the child, should that sensitive information fall into the wrong hands.

Age of the victim doesn't matter

Identity thieves and other criminals are looking for the easiest way for a quick payday. Sadly, the victim's age doesn't really matter. Just like those criminals who prey on older and elderly consumers, there are criminals who have no qualms about stealing from a child. So do not assume that a child's personal and sensitive information isn't of use to a criminal. In fact, a criminal can easily use a child's Social Security number to get government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, or even rent a place to live.

Child identity theft goes undetected

Most parents and guardians don't expect their child to have a credit file and rarely order or monitor a child's credit report. As a result, child identity theft may go undetected for years until the child applies for a job or loan and discovers past problems in a credit report.

Limit the risks

There are laws that help safeguard your child's and your family's personal information. For example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, protects the privacy of student education records. It also gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.

  • Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student's education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records. Schools may charge a fee for copies.
  • Parents or eligible students have the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student then has the right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent or eligible student has the right to place a statement with the record setting forth his or her view about the contested information.
  • Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the certain parties or under the certain conditions.

Disclosure without consent

Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.

What can parents do?

  • Find out who has access to your child’s personal information and verify that the records are kept in a secure location. School administrators should have the answers to these questions.
  • Pay attention to materials sent home asking for personal information. Before you reveal information about your child, find out how it will be used, whether it will be shared and with whom.
  • Read the notice schools must distribute that explains your rights under FERPA.
  • Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. FERPA requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy and gives you the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties.
  • Ask for a copy of your school’s policy on surveys. The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) gives you the right to see such materials before they are distributed to students.
  • Take action if your child’s school experiences a data breach, the unauthorized or unintentional exposure, disclosure, or loss of sensitive personal information. You can file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education.