By Staff Writer
Chances are, you shred or secure any paperwork that contains personally identifying information, such as your Social Security number or birth date. But do you do the same for your children?
You ought to. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that at least 6 percent of all identity theft cases involve children. That’s because youngsters’ personal information is appealing to thieves, who can use it to build a clean credit profile where one doesn’t currently exist. Another reason: It takes longer to get caught.
Adults may be actively involved in the credit world, checking statements and scores, but “parents aren’t checking their children’s credit, so thieves can do more damage over an extended amount of time,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, an organization dedicated to educating consumers and assisting victims.
The good news is, with a few simple steps you can better safeguard your children’s personal information and pursue any problems on their behalf.
Ask questions. Many schools and extracurricular programs ask for kids’ Social Security numbers and other personally identifying information in order for them to participate. Ask why they need this information and whether it’s mandatory. If it’s indeed required, “ask them how they will keep the information secure,” advises Velasquez. Then determine whether you’re comfortable with that level of protection.
Know warning signs. “If you’re receiving things in your child’s name that would typically be for adults only, that’s a red flag,” says Velasquez. Warning signs include:
- Collection notices
- Bills or new credit cards
- Traffic violation warrants
- Jury summons
Don’t request credit reports. Unless you have a strong suspicion or know for certain that your child’s identity has been compromised, resist the temptation to check for a credit report in your child’s name as a preventive measure. “If your child doesn’t have a credit file — and they shouldn’t — you could actually open one up accidentally by checking it,” says Velasquez.
Take action. If you suspect fraud — or can confirm it — contact the Identity Theft Resource Center immediately toll-free, at 888-400-5530. They’ll listen to your concerns and work with you on next steps. You’ll also want to contact the FTCto get help measuring the scope of the problem, and then file a report with your local police department.
Promote privacy. It’s important to teach children the importance of protecting their own personal information, so they don’t set themselves up to be victimized. Velasquez recommends teens and parents check out ConnectSafely, an online resource that offers tips for safeguarding your information online.