A new school year means new pencils, new books—and new opportunities for criminals. Enrolling your child in school means you’ll be required to provide sensitive information such as a bill to prove residency, a Social Security card or birth certificate, and medical records. Unfortunately, disclosing this information places your little one in danger of being victimized by an identity thief.
You might think child identity theft isn’t a major problem; unfortunately the opposite is true. A research report released last year by Carnegie Mellon University CyLab and AllClear ID, an identity theft protection company, found that one in 10 children are victims of identity theft. Children as young as five months old are getting their identities stolen. Even more startling: Some older children have bankruptcies, debt collections, and debts as high as $725,000 attached to their Social Security numbers. And these facts don’t even reflect the thousands of cases that go unnoticed for years. Most of the time, young identity theft victims don’t find out until they’re older and are turned down for credit, a loan, or employment.
Identity theft cannot be prevented, but you can take precautions to reduce your chances of being targeted. The Federal Trade Commission offers some tips for protecting your child’s information during the school year:
- Find out who has access to your child’s information and how the information is stored.
- Read all materials sent home with your son or daughter, or through regular mail or via e-mail asking for personal information. Pay attention to terms like “personally identifiable information,” “directory information,” and “opt out.” Make sure to find out how your child’s personal information will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom, before you grant access.
- Read the annual notice that schools are required to distribute, which explains your rights under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This law protects the privacy of student education records and gives you the right to inspect and review your child’s record. It also gives you the right to consent to the disclosure of your child’s personal information, and the right to request that errors are corrected.
- Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card (or your own) unless it is absolutely necessary.
What you can do:
If you suspect your child’s information has been compromised, take action immediately. One red flag is that a lot of mail is being addressed to your child. Alarm bells should go off if you see bills in your child’s name. Send a letter to all the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion), asking if there are any credit reports attached to your child’s Social Security number. State in your letter that if a report exists for your child, you want it mailed to you. (This is so that you can see what kind of activity has been linked to your child so you can contact the lenders and address the issue before more damage is done.) Young children should not have a credit report. This indicates that someone is using his or her information.
For more on this topic, visit Identity Theft Resource Center.