Deterring child identity theft during the back-to-school season

Jordan Crawford | 8/21/2013, 4:14 p.m.
Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States and it is now directly affecting children.
Free Shred Day at Home Depot in Newport News

In the forefront of our minds, having new clothing and school supplies are most paramount for going back to school. Now, protecting our child’s identity is etching its way onto that list.

Child identity theft is a growing problem in the U.S., with one in 40 households with children under the age of 18 having been victimized. Occurrences seem to escalate during the back-to-school season, what with sign-up forms for extra-curricular activities, school registration, and dorm move-ins, all of which require personal information.

The main thing identity thieves are after is a child’s social security number. This is often the primary component of crimes that use a synthetic ID, according to a 2012 report by Javelin Strategy and Research. Criminals create a synthetic ID by combining a child’s Social Security number with a different date of birth to fabricate an identity that can be used to commit fraud.

Once the unlawful deed is done, an identity thief can apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live all in your child’s name.

There are several warnings that can tip you off to the mishandling of your child’s personal information. For example, you or your child may:

• Be rejected from receiving government benefits because they are already being paid to another account that has your child’s Social Security number.

• Get notices from the IRS saying your child did not 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 did not receive.

Many practices can be ensued to prevent the above and other funny business from happening. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), all paper and electronic documents that contain personal information should be kept in a safe location. Do not give your child’s personal information to just anybody. Ask why divulging the information is necessary and how it will be protected.

When giving out Social Security numbers, first ask if you can use an alternate identifier or if you can just provide the last four digits.

Shredding all personal documents before throwing them away is very helpful. On Thursday, the Newport News Sheriff’s office partnered with Stealth Shredding Inc. to host Free Shred Day. The bi-annual event allowed people to bring their personal identifying documents to the Home Depot parking lot, and have it shredded and dumped.

“Destroying personally identifying documents is one of the best ways to keep a thief from using your good name to conduct unscrupulous business,” said Lieutenant Kathleen Carey. The FTC says that nine-million Americans have their identities stolen every year.

Minors often have not yet had the chance to establish credit, so checking their credit reports is a way to detect misuse of their identities. Three nationwide credit reporting companies, Experian; Equifax; and TransUnion, can assist with this task. Ask for a manual search of the child’s file.

The companies 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. If identity theft is recognized, a fraud alert or report should then be established.

Laws protect your child’s and family’s personal information. The 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.

To limit the risks of children having their identities stolen, parents should be firmly aware of who is handling their personal information and how it is being handled.

It is also 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 — time is available to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.

Children should not start their adult lives the innocent victims of a crime that could prevent them from establishing a firm financial foundation. Guard their identities like you do their lives.