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What you can do about Child Identity Theft

by Lynette Owens

Child identity theft is on the rise.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, child identity theft occurs when a child’s personal information is used by someone for that imposter’s own gain, such as to obtain financial benefits or to clear a criminal record.  When I first heard about child identity theft, I frankly didn’t think it existed.  Who would bother to steal money from a 5-year old?

Since July of 2009, the ITRC confirmed just under 4000 cases of identity theft, of which almost 10% involved the identity theft of children.  Granted, in a world where millions of cases of identity theft happen, this might seem a relatively small number.

But for a crime that I didn’t think existed and as a parent, the number is bigger than I would have ever thought.

Usually, child identity theft is perpetrated by an adult who has a relationship with the child victim: a parent, aunt/uncle, cousin, family friend, etc.  But the ITRC has noted a rise in child identity theft cases that were done by people unknown to the child or parents of the child.

In the U.S., if you have been assigned a social security number, you can do a number of things such as open a new line of credit or apply for a job or unemployment benefits.  Kids are usually assigned a social security number within days of birth.  The number is printed on a card and sent home to the parents a few weeks later.

But someone doesn’t need to steal your social security number to get your social security number.  According to Lynda Foley, co-founder of the ITRC, “All they need to know is your date of birth and place of birth, and they can figure it out from there.” 

Often times, child victims of identity theft are unaware they are victims until they are closer to adult age, when they apply for financial aid or try to open their first line of credit.  By then, their credit history could not only have been developed by someone else, it could be ruined.

So what can a parent, teacher, or concerned person do?  There are lots of things both kids and adults can do to help prevent child identity theft from happening:

1. Think before you post.  Kids need to be guided to share only the information that they wouldn’t mind sharing with strangers as well as friends, but they should also be made aware of identity theft so they think before sharing nuggets of information that might be useful to an i.d. thief.  And how many of us grown-ups post things about our kids, our nieces/nephews or neighbors online?  Before you go announcing your sister’s new baby on your social networking site, in email, on a blog, etc. consider the information you might be readily making available for an i.d. thief.  (Remember: place of birth and date of birth is all they need.)

2. Don’t use your kids’ names.  Wherever possible, adults should enforce the use of code names or nick names instead of a child’s real name online, such as for establishing an email address, registering your child on a kid-friendly website (to use the games, for example), or setting up a profile on a social networking site.

3. Use privacy settings.  For social networking fanatics, make sure only the people you know and trust can see what you’re posting and doing.

4. Use reputable, up-to-date security software.  While identity theft can happen through offline sources as well as online, having good, updated security software will help prevent information-stealing software from getting onto your computers or smart phones in the first place.  Use security software on any device that you store personal information on.

5. Shred and lock.  The ITRC recommends that you shred all documents that contain personal information about your kids (and yourself), and lock your mailbox if you can. 

If you are resident of the U.S. and believe you or your child has become a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free assistance at:

(888) 400-5530

You can also find additional resources and prevention tips at www.idtheftcenter.org

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