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The Resource Center Child Identity Theft & Protection | post

How Identity Theft Happens – The Hardest Lessons on Identity Theft May Be Learned at School

by Neal O'Farrell on

Credit cards for your kids — to do or not to do. This has always been a tough one for most parents I know. On the one hand, you think it might be smart if your kids had their own credit card, maybe to use in case of emergencies, to start learning about financial responsibilities, or maybe to start building a solid credit history early on.

But you're also worried that instead you might be handing your kids a piece of plastic that they quickly turn into a free flowing ATM for them and all their closest buddies, and the first and massive credit card bill you receive quickly ends that costly experiment.

So what would you do if they beat you to the punch? You pick up the mail one morning only to find a collection notice addressed to your sixteen-year-old for bailing out on a credit card debt that you knew absolutely nothing about.

And when your little darling gets home from school later that day, surprise surprise they know nothing about the credit card either. Honestly Mom, it wasn't me.

Stop for a moment. Before you launch into your well-rehearsed lecture about honesty being the best policy, or "what kind of values are you learning at that school?" would it enter your mind that your child might be the victim of identity theft, and that the source was the school?

Schools have become a gold mine for identity thieves. An average school can have as many students and staff as a small bank or credit union has customers. Each one of those students is a complete identity just waiting to be stolen - name, home address, parent information, and even Social Security number.

But unlike banks and credit unions, most schools don't have the money or the skills to protect that treasure trove of highly valuable information from would-be thieves. And if hackers don't make it to this data first, maybe an insider will.

Many school identity thefts have been traced to tech savvy students trying to test their hacking skills, show off to their friends, or just wreak havoc. But it gets worse. Imagine if the thief was a trusted teacher who decided to use her students' identities to live a lifestyle that she couldn't afford on her teacher's salary?

Like the 44-year-old teacher in Florida who recently pleaded guilty to attempting to open 17 new credit card accounts using stolen information on current and former students.

Identity theft at school will continue to be a major problem, because schools need to have most of this personal information on file and easily accessible, but don't have the resources needed to protect it.

So that's where you have to step in, as a parent, advocate, and guardian. Talk to the school or PTA and raise the issue. Encourage the development of identity theft awareness campaigns in your school. Talk to your kids about the problem, what to avoid, and what to watch out for. And watch out for your kids' identities because during these great fun-filled years, you can bet that's the last thing on their minds.