When you think about identity theft, you probably think about your own bank accounts and credit cards, your internet passwords, or even your Social Security number being hacked. You think that if it happens, you’ll see it all at once — your accounts will be drained, your checks will bounce, automatic payments won’t go through. But what you probably don’t think of is your child’s information being hacked and not finding out about it for years.
Here’s what you need to know about how and why identity thieves are targeting kids and what you can do about it.
You’re probably wondering why an identity thief would want a child’s personal information if they’re not even old enough to have a bank account and a credit card. But as it happens, their age actually works in the identity thief’s favor. Since your child isn’t old enough to have credit, they aren’t old enough to have negative marks against their credit.
Did you know that 16% of Americans have bad credit? And that another 18% have only fair credit? An identity thief going after an adult has a decent chance of pulling private information that they can’t do much with because the credit is already damaged. Their odds are actually better if they choose a child who has not yet developed a negative credit history.
Not only can the identity thief work with a child’s lack of credit score, their chances of being discovered go way down. After all, a child is not attempting to get a mortgage, open a bank account, or apply for a credit card. They aren’t checking their credit score. So how will they know? The answer is that they usually won’t until they get a little older, start applying for loans and credit cards, and find out that they already have bad credit.
Identity theft can be done for a number of reasons, ranging from financial desperation to greed. There are a number of people who might want to steal a child’s identity, and unfortunately, it’s often found in the home. Parents, guardians, and other relatives who have access to the child’s personal information are often the identity thieves.
A parent or relative who has difficulty paying the bills, for example, may use a child’s name and social security number to get the water or cable turned on with a new account, rather than paying off the old one that has a lot of money owing. Or they could use their child’s name and social security number to get credit to fund a shopping, gambling, or substance habit that they can’t otherwise afford.
You need to be vigilant about protecting your child’s personal information, even from people close to you.
Other sources of identity theft aren’t as close to home, however. Your child’s information is on file at many places: doctor’s offices, insurance companies, schools, social services organizations, and more.
Schools have become one of the most popular targets for ransomware attacks. Typically, hackers threaten to release the data they hack if the victims don’t pay the ransom. That means that all of the personal information your child’s school has on file could be offered for sale to identity thieves as a result of a ransomware attack. You may not even know about it if it happens; schools often don’t report these attacks.
And the same thing can happen to almost any other organization that might have your child’s information, including healthcare facilities and government agencies. And if ransomware hackers are breaking in and making their presence known, it’s entirely possible that others have found a way to break in more quietly. You can’t assume that any organization is entirely safe.
Finally, children often put their own information at risk. The older your child gets and the more information they put on social media and other places online, the greater the risk that they’ll compromise their own identity simply by not being cautious. Identity thieves trolling for information in this way are more likely to target children because they’re less suspicious and less careful than adults.
Your child will need their pristine financial identity later in life, and it’s very difficult to recover from identity theft. So it falls to parents to do what they can to protect their children’s identities from possible thieves.
Start by protecting your child’s identifying information and documents in your home. Store them in a safe, locked place that isn’t accessible to anyone who comes into your home. Treat them like the valuable documents they are.
When organizations ask you for your child’s SSN or other identifying information, ask why they need it. Sometimes there are other identifying options available, or you can just use the last four digits of the SSN. Also, ask how they’ll protect your child’s information.
As your child grows, teach them how to protect themselves and their information online. Talk to them about internet security and the importance of protecting their information, avoiding phishing links and other types of malware, and not revealing more than someone needs to know about themselves online.
Also, be on the alert for signs of children’s identity theft. It’s harder to tell when a stolen identity is a child’s, but watch for suspicious mail that would not be sent to kids, such as communications from the IRS or credit denials. The earlier you notice signs of identity theft, the easier it will be to deal with.
Keeping an eye on your child’s internet activity can also help you ensure that they’re not inadvertently or carelessly sharing too much information. Webwatcher can help you protect your child online. Get our free trial and find out how WebWatcher can help keep your family safe.