How to protect your children (and yourself) from identity theft.
By Tim Woda
With the most recent security hacks of Target, Snapchat and Skype, and the all-knowing NSA looming over our head, it is safe to say that now more than ever we are aware of how our identity is not really our own. Most adults know to protect their identity online. However, what parents often overlook is that their child’s identity is just as susceptible, if not more.
Kids have perfect credit. Smart criminals know this. The first time someone applies for credit, all that is required is a Social Security combination and an unused name—with any contact information—and credit is received. Since the fraudulent account is attached to your child’s SSN but not his address, it is possible that you won’t know about the theft until years later when he or she applies for his or her own credit.
1 Protect the Social Security Number. Multiple organizations have your child’s SSN—doctors, dentists, college savings accounts, the IRS. Anytime your child’s SSN is requested, ask if there is an alternative figure you can use instead or simply leave it blank.
2 Teach what is appropriate to share on social media sites. Make it very clear what should not be shared online and on the phone, including identifying data such as phone numbers, addresses, passwords, driver’s license number, credit card numbers and more. Consider friending your child on Facebook, Twitter or using a parental intelligence tool to help guide them on a path to better online safety, security and etiquette.
3Make sure privacy settings are activated. Make sure your child’s various accounts are set up so only their friends can see information they post. Warn your children about “friending” on Facebook. Only real friends should be social media friends. Children should also be cautious about downloading anything from the Internet and avoid clicking links in a fishy-sounding email or respond to an email asking for personal information.
4Request a credit report annually, for both you and your children. There are various free services you can use to do this. If you chose to use annualcreditreport.com, request a copy of your report and your child’s from one of the major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Requesting your report from just one bureau every four months will give you a great snapshot of you and your child’s credit. When you open the report, a single page should read, “No Credit Report Exists.” If it states anything else, contact the police.
Tim Woda is an Internet safety expert and a advocate for empowering families and protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers. Woda started working on child safety issues after his son was targeted by a child predator online. While his son was unharmed, the incident led Woda to kick-start uKnow.com. Find more of his Internet safety tips at northernvirginiamag.com/family each month.