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Protecting Your Children from Identity Theft
Identity theft is on the rise, especially those of children. In the past year, identity theft rose from 6.4 million (5.5 percent of households in 2005) to 8.6 million (7 percent of households). Identity theft is defined as an "unauthorized use or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or other existing account; the misuse of personal information to open a new account, or for another fraudulent purpose; or a combination of these types of misuse." For adult victims, this often means canceling credit cards, reviewing credit reports — and requesting fraud alerts on those reports, closing accounts that may be compromised, filing a report with local police and filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. But what does it mean for children with compromised identities?
Richard Power, distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, reports that of 40,000 child identities scanned in 2012, 4,311 (or 10.2 percent) were victims of identity theft.
The primary thieves of children's stolen identities include illegal immigrants, organized crime and friends and family (e.g. to circumvent bad credit ratings). One shocking statistic reported by a Javelin Research study in 2011 revealed that in cases of familial fraud, "the average amount stolen was $8,233, compared with $3,666 when the scammer is not known to the victim."
Child identity theft is a growing market, as every child is issued a social security number at birth, but parents rarely track their children's SSNs. Unused social security numbers are uniquely valuable as thieves can pair them with any name and birth date. The discovery of theft usually happens when a child attempts their first credit transaction, such as "purchasing a cell phone, setting up an online account in their own name, applying for college financial aid or getting that first job," states the Javelin study. Children may have to overcome years of negative credit, delaying college or their dream job for months or years and, their potential to earn a security clearance for government work may be affected.
What are some resources available to parents to keep their children's identities safe? The first is to have effective, up-to-date security software in place on the child's internet accessible devices. This is not just a laptop or desktop discussion. Children now access online information through mobile devices, gaming consoles, tablets and phones. A 2010 Data Breach Investigation report found that "...92 percent of attacks were not very difficult to commit." Tech News World reports that "...without security, your unprotected PC can become infected within four minutes of connecting to the internet." A product suite like Norton One from Symantec Corporation can provide internet security across PCs, Macs, Android phones and tablets.
"Given the rise of identity theft, and especially child identity theft, parents need to be even more diligent in protecting their entire family," says Joe Mason, author of Bankrupt at Birth.
Concerned parents may also wish to purchase a monitoring and alerting service designed to protect credit card numbers, SSNs and other personally identifiable information (PII). Intersections, Inc., provides an identity protection service for adults called Identity Guard (www.identityguard.com) and a specialized service for child identity protection called kID Sure.
Natatia L. Bledsoe, public information officer with the Fredericksburg Police Department says, "Although we have not yet had a reported case of child identity theft in Fredericksburg, it is important for parents to know that protecting identity information, such as social security numbers and dates of birth for children, is just as important as it is for adults. It is also essential to report cases of identity theft and fraud to the police as soon as it's discovered."