SPECIAL REPORT: Cyber crooks targeting children
Just about any piece of technology leads to a choice between convenience and privacy. Many online services make billions off your information, as well as the information from your children. But experts warn that if some of that info falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to serious problems down the road. That's because some hackers are turning to identity theft of children. They can utilize some of their personal information to try and open lines of credit in their names.
If they succeed, a family might not realize it for years, when the child becomes an adult and begins establishing their own credit, only to find marks already on their record. There are a number of ways you can detect and prevent such an event from happening to your children. Read the advice from the Federal Trade Commission below:
Several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:
- be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
- get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
- get collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive
Check for a Credit Report
If you think your child’s information is at risk, check whether your child has a credit report.
- Contact each of the three nationwide credit bureaus.
- Ask for a manual search of the child’s file.
The bureaus will check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, and for files related only to the child’s Social Security number.
The credit bureaus may require copies of:
- the child’s birth or adoption certificate
- the child’s Social Security card
- the parent or guardian’s government-issued identification card, like a driver’s license, or copies of documents proving the adult is the child’s legal guardian
- proof of address, like a utility bill, or credit card or insurance statement
Repair the Damage
Contact Companies Where Fraud Occurred
Tell the fraud department someone opened a fraudulent account using your child’s identity. Ask them to close the account and send you a letter confirming your child isn’t liable. If needed, send a letter explaining your child is a minor who can’t enter into contracts. Attach a copy of your child’s birth certificate.
Contact the Credit Bureaus
Ask the credit bureaus to remove any fraudulent accounts from your child’s credit report. Tell them your child is a minor who can’t enter into contracts. Include a copy of the child’s birth certificate.
Consider a Child Credit Freeze
You can freeze a child's credit until the child is old enough to use it.
The credit freeze restricts access to your child’s credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your child’s name.
Report Identity Theft to the FTC
Go to IdentityTheft.gov or call 877-ID-THEFT.
Prevention = Protection
You can take steps to protect your child’s identity from misuse:
Find a safe location for all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information.
Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, there’s an adult in your household who might want to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a data breach.
Limiting the Risks of Child Identity Theft
Laws safeguard your child and your family's personal information. For example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.
If you're a parent with a child who's enrolled in school:
Find Out Who Has Access to Your Child’s Personal Information
Verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
Pay Attention to Forms from School
Forms that ask for personal information may come home with your child, or you may get them through the mail or by email. Look for terms like "personally identifiable information," "directory information," and "opt-out." Find out how your child’s information will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.
Read the Notices from Your Child’s School
Your school will send home an annual notice that explain explains your rights under FERPA, including your right to:
- inspect and review your child's education records
- approve the disclosure of personal information in your child’s records
- ask to correct errors in the records
Ask Your Child’s School About its Directory Information Policy
Student directory information can include your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you want to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties, it’s best to put your request in writing and keep a copy for your files. If you don't opt-out, directory information may be available to the people in your child's class and school, and to the general public.
Ask for a Copy of Your School’s Policy on Surveys
The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment gives you the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.
Consider Other Programs That Take Place at the School
Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren't formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have web sites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations to find out if — and how — your child's information will be used and shared.
Take Action if Your Child’s School Experiences a Data Breach
Your child’s school or the school district may notify you of a data breach. If not, and you believe your child's information has been compromised, contact the school to learn more. Talk with teachers, staff, or administrators about the incident and their practices. Keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board, if necessary.
File a Complaint
You may file a written complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Contact the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20202-5920, and keep a copy for your records. Visit the Department's website to learn more about FERPA.
You may have additional rights under state law: contact your state attorney general for details.
When Your Child Turns 16
It’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment. Also, if you placed a credit freeze, you'll need to lift it before the child applies for any new credit.
Credit Bureau Contact Information
Contact the national credit bureaus to request fraud alerts, credit freezes (also known as security freezes), and opt outs from prescreened credit offers.