As adults, there are a variety of ways that we might find out our identities have been stolen. Maybe it’s a phone call from our credit card companies, inquiring about suspicious charges. It could be bills or cards that arrive in the mail without warning. In serious cases, it might even be discovered if you’re turned down for a loan or line of credit, or if bill collectors track you down.
While none of those things sounds very pleasant, at least you can take comfort in knowing there’s a problem so you can work to correct it. Unfortunately, victims of child identity theft rarely have the benefit of these warnings, and they can go years without knowing someone has stolen their identity. Many of them don’t even find out until they apply for college financial aid, attempt to enlist in the military, or apply for a job.
There are some steps you can take—both during the busy holiday season and all year long—that can help minimize the chances that your child will become a victim:
Lock up the info
Far too many crimes perpetrated against children are committed by someone the child knows, and identity theft is no different. As friends and family members drop by to celebrate over the holidays, make sure your child’s sensitive data like his Social Security card and birth certificate are hidden under lock and key. No one likes to think that someone they know could do such a thing, but people in desperate financial situations can do desperate things. A child’s identity, specifically their credit rating, is a clean slate, and some identity thieves have even stated that they had every good intention of paying off the debt before the child ever noticed. Sadly, the same financial behaviors that caused the thief’s situation result in a massive debt in the child’s name.
As parents, we’re proud of our kids. Some of us are so proud, though, that we tend to broadcast things about them on social media without realizing that we’re setting them up for identity theft, or worse. If your Facebook user name contains your maiden name, a common trait among female users so that childhood friends and classmates can recognize them, you just provided an identity thief with your child’s mother’s maiden name, one of the most common account security questions. Did you wish him a happy birthday online? A quick scroll back through your posts will give the thief your child’s birthdate, too. Now for the holiday warning: did you post pictures, video, or other announcements about your child’s choir concert, Christmas play, or visit with Santa? Your photos of the event can give the thief the name and location of your child’s school, if you didn’t actually divulge those details yourself. Given the notoriously lax security concerning school networks and websites, you’ve done almost all of the work for an identity thief.
Sharing data with those who don’t need it
One unpleasant thing about the holiday season is it tends to usher in cold season, too. Unfortunately, doctors’ offices and hospitals can be common sources of identity theft. One way to make sure your child’s identity is safe from prying eyes is to not turn over all of his sensitive data. But there’s a catch: Medical offices are not entitled to your or your child’s Social Security numbers, even though many offices list that item on their patient forms. It can’t be stated enough… they have absolutely no need of it, and you are allowed to refuse to provide it. The catch, though, is that there is no legal requirement short of a medical emergency that they provide you with care if you refuse to supply your sensitive data. Then you would have to decide whether to turn it over or seek medical care elsewhere. Fortunately, most providers understand the current climate of identity theft and will not pressure you for the information.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ll be gift wrapping some new technology this season, then you have some work to do before you pass that new device to your child. While protecting a smartphone, tablet, or laptop with antivirus software and parental controls is always important, teaching your child about avoiding potential threats is crucial. You won’t always be there when your child is online, so it’s important to keep the conversation going about internet predators, cyber bullying, and identity theft.
Model it for them
It’s no secret that kids learn from our behavior, even when we’d rather they didn’t. But this holiday season is an excellent time to let your kids see the safe behaviors you engage in to keep your identity safe. Whether it’s comparing your holiday receipts to your bank or credit card statement, updating your computer’s antivirus software and web browser, or monitoring your credit report, letting your kids see you keeping up with your own safe practices can help him build a lifelong habit of his own.
Questions about identity theft? Connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, live chat feature or on-the-go through our IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.