keep kids safe from identity theftSummer is drawing to a close, which means children across the country will be lacing up new sneakers and sitting down in new desks for the start of another school year. Parents have enough to worry about when sending their young ones out into the world without them, but how much does the average parent know about protecting their child’s identity? It’s something to think about, especially given the uptick in data breaches with health insurance providers like Anthem which exposed children’s social security numbers alongside their parents’. Child identity theft is a big deal, and it happens more often than parents probably realize.

Most eight-year-olds and their parents aren’t checking their credit, and why should they? Sadly, that’s the exact reason a minor’s identity is so appealing to identity thieves: it’s a blank slate. Unless a parent has opened a credit card in his or her child’s name, added them as a joint account holder or identity theft has already occurred, a child’s credit is clean. Since it’s not in parents’ heads to check their children’s credit, identity theft might go unnoticed for years. In 2012, approximately 2.5% of households with children under 18 in the U.S. were expected to experience identity theft at some point, a number that has surely risen with increase in identity theft overall. Fortunately, there are some ways that parents can protect their children from falling victim to identity theft.

Keep kids safe with these identity theft tips

1. Talk to your child about information safety. Children are taught early to memorize important information about themselves, but it’s important that they understand when it’s not a good idea to give out data. In addition to discussing why social security numbers, home addresses, telephone numbers and even their birth date is all valuable information they shouldn’t write down or tell just anybody, it’s wise for parents to monitor their children as best they can. In the age of the smartphone, kids are more easily communicating with people they don’t know through text message, apps and other Internet means. If you aren’t sure talking to your child is enough, consider using parental control software to help keep an eye on what they do on their devices.

2. Guard their social security number. If the school administration or after school program asks for your child’s social security number, find out the reasoning and see if you can avoid giving it out. Likewise, when it comes time for any start of the school year doctor’s visits, remember that in many cases you aren’t required to provide a social security number when asked. If you do give it out, make sure you know the privacy policy of the school, club or doctor’s office and how the information will be handled, stored and discarded. At home, be sure that all family members’ social security cards are locked away in a fire-proof safe or lock box.

3. Read up on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Also known as FERPA, this federal law protects the privacy of your child’s student records. It gives parents the right to inspect and review their children’s education records, which includes any forms that the school collects containing personal information. Under FERPA, you can also opt out of allowing the school to share any information provided in your child’s educational records for non-educational purposes. You should also know about the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, which allows parents to view any instructional materials and surveys before they are distributed to students — as well require parental permission before students can participate in any Department of Education-funded survey, analysis or evaluation which reveals personal information.

4. Consider signing up for an identity theft protection service. While they can’t stop identity theft from happening, these services offer an extra layer of protection by scanning the Internet black market for personal information — such as social security numbers and medical IDs — and credit reports for suspicious activity. Many of the top-rated services offer affordable family plans that allow you to protect your entire family — including your minor children. You can learn more about the best identity theft service plans for families by reading this blog post.

Being aware that your child’s identity is at risk is the first step toward protecting them. Paying attention to what information is shared and who it’s shared with, as well as being on the lookout for any suspicious activity, will hopefully help keep your student’s credit nonexistent until he or she is ready to start building it as an adult. Learn more about identity theft and get more tips for protecting your entire family by following our blog.