How can someone open credit accounts with your child's identity when your kid isn't even 18 yet? It's easier than you think. Child identity theft is becoming more and more popular because of how easy it is. As long as the thief has a child's social security number, they can open a credit card account. The credit bureaus have no way to tie a social security number to a birthdate or even name if that number has no credit file yet. So how do you protect your kids against identity theft? Here are few ways:
Talk to Your Kids About Privacy
Kids are much more trusting than adults, which makes it more dangerous for them to have private information. Have a conversation with your child about what is ok to share what isn't, especially when it comes to what they are sharing online. And most importantly, your child's social security number is the main key for identity thieves, so it should be kept as private as possible, even from them.
"Kids don't need to know their social security number," Joe Mason, author of child identity theft book "Bankrupt at Birth," points out. "If they don't know it, they can't share it."
Trust No One With Your Personal Information
Even the most trusted sources can be vulnerable to identity theft, so be careful who you are giving your kid's information to, even if you trust them.
"The most common places we see ID theft are from doctor's offices, hospitals, schools, sports teams or anywhere where the parent is providing personal information about their child," Mason says. He stresses that while you may know the receptionist, teacher or coach that you are giving the information to, once they file that information, other people can easily gain access to it, especially if it's stored digitally.
Before giving out your child's social security number, always check whether it is really necessary and legally required. If it's not, don't give it out. If it is, know that you have rights under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act. Make sure to check that your child's records are being kept in a safe, secure place and that you know who has access to those files. Find out what your school's directory policy is. Many times, that information can be given out to a third party without your knowledge. Keep in mind that you have the right to opt-out of releasing that information to anyone but the school.
"If you are asked for your child's personal information, make sure to ask them three questions: Why do they need it? How's it going to be protected? If something happens to compromise that information, how will I be notified?" Mason advises.
Know the Warning Signs
Make sure you are watching out for any signs that your child's identity might have been stolen. If you are getting calls from collections agencies or bills for credit cards that are in your child's name, or if the IRS is contacting you about your child's employment or taxes that they owe, it might be a good time to investigate identity theft. If you don't want to wait for the warning signs, you can contact the three major credit bureaus to see if your child has a credit file, which they would only have if someone opened financial accounts in their name.
Technology Can Help
There are a lot of technological aides out there to help you protect your kids online. Parental controls can help you watch what sites your kids are on and what information they might be sharing. Get a strong security software suite installed on your computer that includes a personal information manager, such as Norton or Kaspersky, which will keep your online passwords and personal information protected. Certain identity theft protection services even offer identity theft products just for children. It monitors the Internet black market, pre-credit sources (such as utility and telecommunications) and thousands of databases (including public records) to help protect your child from identity theft.
It's much easier to protect your child from identity theft than to try and undo the damage once it's done. Keep these tips in mind, and if you think that your child is a victim of identity theft, contact your local police to report it. They will be able to file charges and help you determine what steps to take to reverse the damage.
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