Earlier this month we posted an article about the abundance of child ID theft and what parents can watch for to protect their children from those who may be seeking a new identity. Identity theft is highly preventable, not only for parents, but for children as well. Our youth are growing up with new technological advances that give them access to all things the internet has to offer. Most classes today even require the use of the Internet for research or projects.
One study found that 85% percent of kids aged 12-17 used social media networks in 2013, with 94% of teens on Facebook. With the constant updates to Facebook, everything your teen posts – status updates, posting images, videos, etc — are accessible by everyone unless they opt-out. It’s your job as the parent to educate your children about cyber security and what they need to watch out for. Here are some tips to share with your children and what to do if you find your child is a victim of identity theft.
Tips to Share With Your Teens
As the FTC says, “prevention = protection.” It only takes a second for an image or vital piece of information to get shared or saved on a personal computer. Here’s how your teen can prevent identity theft online:
- Always keep personal information safe – Any paperwork your child receives from school or the doctor’s office that contains their DOB, address, or social security number (SS#) should be shredded and kept safe until they have access to a paper shredder.
- Never share SS# or carry around with you – This is obvious to parents, but children –especially those under age 16- don’t think about how important it is to keep that information safe. When I first started driving I carried my social security card in my wallet. I didn’t know it wasn’t a smart decision until one of my friend’s parents saw it and warned me about the risk of losing that card.
- Leave the SS# space blank on paperwork – It seems like almost all forms request your SS#, but very few of them actually need it. Teach your child to refuse to fill out the SS# on paperwork even if the adult ensures they include it. If there’s an issue due to their refusal, have your child inform the adult or business to contact you directly.
- Secure their social accounts – This one is a big focus. First of all, if you don’t have all your child’s passwords, consider adding them as a friend or following them. Walk through your child’s social networks with them to check all security settings. Keeping accounts private will ensure their information is kept private and only shared with their friends. It’s also a good idea to go through their friends list and delete anyone they don’t personally know. A lot of kids accept friend requests in order to have more “friends” than their peers, but some of those “friends” could be predators waiting for private information to get released. Even if they look like kids it could actually be an adult that made a fake account. Warn them about things to look for with fake accounts (small amount of photos, few friends, low activity, no friends in common, etc).
- Don’t overshare information – Another precaution with social accounts is the type of information being shared. Tell them not to announce when they are on a family vacation. Announcing online that your entire family is gone for the week tells thieves the house is empty and they have plenty of time to break in. Tell them to refrain from putting their home address or phone number on their accounts and to omit the year of their birth.
Check for Fraud
It is suggested to check for fraud when your child turns 16 because if there is fraud, you have about 2 years to get everything corrected and because ID theft is highest in older children. You should first contact all three major credit bureaus and ask for a manual search of your child’s file. The FTC states that copies of your child’s birth certificate, social security card, proof of address, and the parent’s ID card may be requested in order to complete the request. With all forms of communication when dealing with finances or other important items, always document your phone calls and with whom you spoke with and what was discussed. Maintaining a contact record could prevent headaches down the road.
My Child’s Identity was Stolen, Now What?
If after contacting the major credit bureaus you find that your child does in fact have a credit profile, you should take immediate steps to investigate it and stop it. Here are some important steps you should take as suggested by the FTC if you find out your child’s identity has been stolen:
- Document everything. Before taking any action make sure you document every single action you take. Keep track of who you called, date, time, person’s name, actions taken, and any estimated or expected dates for action to be taken.
- Report it to all three credit bureaus. Have each of these bureaus remove all accounts and any credit inquiries, and any collection notices associated with your child’s name and SS#.
- Equifax: 800-525-6285
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Place an Extended Fraud Alert. You may place the alert with one credit bureau and they should then contact the other two. Follow up to make sure the other bureaus were contacted. This will last for 7 years and a copy of an identity theft report is required to process the alert. You may download an extended fraud alert form, here.
- File a fraud report. This may be done through the FTC online or by phone at 877-438-4338. The FTC has an 8-step Complaint Assistant to help you with this process. It’s a bit lengthy, but hey, you have just 2 years to clear your child’s record if you discover fraud at age 16.
- Close all Accounts. Contact every business and entity that has an account open in your child’s name and have them close all accounts associated with their name and discontinue reporting information on the account to the credit bureaus. You may be liable for some fees, but it shouldn’t be much.
- Consider a Credit Freeze. Also called a “security freeze,” this will prevent any future accounts from being opened in your name because the credit bureaus can’t release your credit report without your consent. You will need to place a freeze with all three bureaus and you must lift the freeze yourself when you’re ready. You should wait until your child’s record is completely clean and repaired and they are at an age where they can start to build credit. Here’s some information on what happens if someone attempts to open an account that’s associated with a freeze.
Kari Luckett writes about financial topics for CompareCards.com and is the content strategist for CompareCards.com. Kari is the lead writer for myFICO Kids, a column focusing on teaching children about smart financial habits.