Quite a few years ago a friend of mine was helping her 18-year-old son get financially ready for college. During their preparation, they received a copy of his credit report, which showed a substantial amount of debt. It couldn’t be possible that he would have any debt since he had only recently turned 18. You see, a minor cannot sign a contract and obtain a loan of any kind. Sure, they may work out a personal loan outside of a financial institution, but that contract most likely would not be legally binding.
After some investigation, it was determined that my friend’s son’s his identity had been stolen. Identity theft of children is much more common than many people realize. Identity thieves like stealing the identities of kids because it is easy, most aren’t paying attention to their credit report, and they don’t have any debt. With a few tweaks to a kid’s personal information, the identity thieves can easily pose as them and rack up a lot of debt.
Just how many kids are affected by identity theft? A lot! According to Richard Power, a Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon CyLab, 4,311 or 10.2% of 40,000 children whose information was scanned (not surveyed), someone else was using their social security number. The following chart shows some disturbing information. Their full report can be found here.
No one wants to go through what my friend had to go through. After spending hundreds of dollars, working with an attorney, and many months of frustration, they were able to clear his credit report of all the debt the identity thief racked up. As many can tell you, it’s not an easy task to clean up the mess an identity thief leaves behind. However, steps can be taken to make it more difficult for identity thieves to steal one’s identity. The best offense to identity theft is a good defense. Here are some ways to help prevent identity theft of your children:
- Don’t let them use their actual birthdate for social media. My own kids tweak their birthdates to prevent hackers from obtaining their full birthdate.
- Don’t give out your kid’s social security number and don’t let them, either. Of course, it will need to be given out for a job and/or taxes, but it’s not necessary to give it to everyone who asks. For example, many doctor’s offices request the social security numbers on their forms. I personally don’t write them down. If the receptionist gets “bucky” with me, I just explain we do not share that information. They don’t need it.
- Use strong passwords on all accounts that have any financial or personal information. Did you know that many passwords can use symbols? Get creative, but remember to keep a list of your usernames and passwords in a safe place.
- NEVER give out personal information on the phone unless you called the company directly. This one has gotten a few people in trouble because they get an email with an urgent notice to contact the company who needs some pertinent information. Many times these emails are scams and a way to scare you into giving out your personal information. If I get an email like that and I think it may be legitimate, I use the contact information I have from a company’s statement or letter. I don’t use the contact information given in the email.
- Use a cross-cut shredder to shred anything that has personal information on it. Our shredder gets a lot of use. We shred all credit card offers and anything that has any personal information on it other than our address.
- Don’t use a voided check or deposit ticket to write down your name, address, or email address to give to someone else. You may trust the person you’re giving that to, but you don’t know where that is going to end up and it has you checking account number on it, along with your name and address.
- Sensitive mail should be placed in a blue U.S. Post Office box or taken directly to the post office.
- Teach your kids not to give out personal information to anyone on social media. It doesn’t matter how “safe” they feel, personal information should not be shared, especially with someone they have never met. This may seem obvious, but kids forget and need to be consistently reminded.
Teaching kids to become their own advocate to protect their personal identity won’t guarantee their identity won’t be stolen, but it will increase the likelihood that it won’t be. Most thieves look for the easy route and making it difficult will deter most of them.