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At first glance, you may think your kids are safe from identity theft and fraud. After all, they're too young to take out loans or open bank accounts. What are the odds that criminals will be able to exploit their information?
In fact, criminals are especially interested in stealing personally identifiable information from minors. Children have new, unsullied Social Security numbers (SSNs) and have no need to check their credit reports. Cybercriminals can use your child’s SSN to construct new identities, and the theft may go undiscovered for years.
Every year, far too many children become victims of identity theft. Experts put the number affected at over 1 million children annually, most of them quite young. Two-thirds of identities stolen from minors in 2017 came from children under the age of eight, with monetary losses incurred from fraud totaling $2.6 billion. Sometimes, the crime remains undetected until the victim is old enough to take out a loan, only to find his or her credit has been ruined by a fraudster running amok with a stolen SSN.
Large scale data breaches are worrisome for adults whose information was compromised—but they should also be worried about their kids’ data. Eleven percent of households lost control of a child’s data in a breach in 2017. These events put SSNs and other data points into circulation among criminals, where they can linger indefinitely.
Actions You Can Take
Data breaches may be inevitable, but you shouldn't give up on personal cybersecurity protection for your kids. The following are a few ways you can increase the chances your children won't fall victim to fraud based on identity theft:
- Be reticent to give personally identifiable info (PII) to school programs: According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are identity theft risks with school programs, especially those not directly associated with the school. Each activity will have its own unique policies around data use and privacy. Failing to pay attention to how these differ from your school's may put your kids' information at undue risk.
- Take breach notifications seriously: When you receive a notification that a child's data has been breached, it's easy to assume the notice is mistaken, or even a phishing attempt. After all, how could a kid's SSN be at risk? But the risk is real, and when you learn that your child's data has been compromised, you should investigate further.
- Minimize SSN access: Parents should be very protective of their kids' Social Security information. Keep paper copies of records under lock and key and only give out data when it's absolutely necessary. When another party requests access to a kid's SSN, it's worth asking if you can use a different identifying factor, such as the last four digits of the number, instead of the whole thing.
- Work with a trusted identity protection partner: Third-party identity protection services aren't just for adults. Although your kids are too young to open bank accounts or take out loans, they're not too young to lose control of their information. Being diligent about cyber protection now, means that when they are old enough to care about their credit report, it will be fresh and unsullied, as it should be. Don’t wait until they’re 18 to find out they can’t get a loan for college.
Identity Guard has personal cybersecurity family plans, to cover everyone living at your address, including an unlimited number of children and adults.