For parents, your relationship with your child’s school is based on trust - trust that your child will be kept safe, trust that that he or she will have ample opportunity to learn, trust that the school and its teachers will set a positive example for your child. This confidence is the only reason parents can feel comfortable dropping their kids off every morning. But, recent events have served as a reminder that not even schools are immune from the threat of identity theft.
A series of data breaches at schools across the country have left students’ identities at risk. In a leak reported this May in southern California, as many as 36,000 student records were inadvertently sent to an unknowing parent, according to the San Diego Tribune. Another breach, reported by USA Today, compromised the identity of some 63,000 students and staff at the University of Central Florida in Orlando earlier this year. As a parent, what are you supposed to do when one of the organizations you have come to trust most suffers a data breach?
Understand the risks
Because of their high level of contact with students, schools often have a great deal of personal information about them on file. For example, high schools may store their students’ medical data, test scores, home address or date of birth. Colleges may have even more information, including material that is provided during the application process. These details could range from Social Security Number to previous places of employment and on-campus housing information.
No matter what age your children might be, having these details leaked to the public could pose a significant risk to their identity, warns the Federal Trade Commission. For example, an ID thief could use a child’s personal information to apply for benefits, open credit cards, take out loans or even seek medical treatment.
Keep your child safe
When it comes to protecting your child’s personal data from misuse, the main strategy is to be careful where and how you share it. Schools often request personal information on forms sent home with students, and it can be easier for a parent to simply fill out the document than to inquire why it’s necessary to share certain details. However, if the school does experience a leak, parents who were more prudent with their personal data could rest easier knowing their information was not part of the breach.
However, it is unrealistic to expect parents to withhold information about their children from schools altogether. Because the threat of a data breach always exists in the background, it’s important to recognize certain signs that could indicate your child’s identity has been compromised. Here’s a list to watch out for, courtesy of the FTC:
- The IRS sends a notice letting you know your child didn’t pay his or her income taxes.
- Your child receives collection calls for unfamiliar debts.
- You are denied government benefits because they are already being paid to an account listed under your child’s SSN.
Keeping an eye out for these signs is instrumental to detecting fraud, especially because many cases of child ID theft aren’t noticed until the child grows up and applies for a loan or credit card.
Protect your identity
While students are often the primary concern in school-related data breaches, adults are often targeted as well. Sometimes, cybercriminals target schools to phish for data about district employees or even parents. If your child’s school has fallen victim to a data breach, keep a close eye on your accounts, and monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. Companies like Identity Guard can assist in this process, alerting you if they detect certain activity in your credit files that may indicate fraud. To learn more, contact us today.