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 six percent of all identity theft cases involve children. 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.
Many schools and extracurricular programs ask for kids’ Social Security numbers and other personally identifying information 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 mail in your child's name that would typically be for adults only, that's a red flag,” says Velasquez. Warning signs include:
Bills or new credit cards
Traffic violation warrants
Don't request credit reports
Resist the temptation to check for a credit report in your child's name as a preventive measure unless you have a strong suspicion or know for certain that your child's identity has been compromised. “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.
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 FTC to get help measuring the scope of the problem, and then file a report with your local police department.
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.
For added security, ask your Insurance Agent about identity theft insurance and how it can protect you and your children.
This article was brought to o by Tricia Zwiner of State Farm in Windham.