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You need to protect your child’s identity online. If not, they’ll be part of the 1.3 million kids with their identities stolen yearly.
And there are dire consequences.
For example, you don’t want to realize your child’s identity has been stolen and used to commit financial fraud when it’s time for college.
But beyond financial risks, you should protect your child’s identity from creeps. Your child could also be used as a weak link to target the entire family.
Children are innocent. So, they’re more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Look, I’m not saying you should ban your kids from playing games or having fun online.
They’ll hate you.
But there are many ways you can keep your child safe online from scammers and creeps. And yes, they’ll still have fun.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll tell you more about child identity theft, how it happens, and how to protect your little ones.
What Is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft is when someone steals a minor’s identity and uses it for financial or personal gain.
Scammers can use your child’s name and Social Security Number (SSN) to receive government benefits, take loans, apply for credit cards, or commit tax fraud scam.
And you may not know until it’s too late.
Many parents try to protect their child’s identity online – me too. But it’s usually not enough.
In a previous article about how to prevent identity theft (link to article), I mentioned how my cousin Jack’s identity was stolen from his dad’s employer’s database. He was listed in the company’s HR files for insurance.
His identity was then used to defraud a college of $7,500.
Remember, this happened before online games, apps, and e-shopping became popular.
Now, fraudsters no longer need to hack your employer – that’s not to say they won’t.
But there are many ways kids expose themselves nowadays due to technology.
If you don’t protect your child’s identity online, these criminals will exploit their exposure.
How Does Child Identity Happen?
You may wonder, but my kids don’t even have credit files yet.
There are no bank statements or credit history.
So, how can anyone steal their identity to commit fraud?
Unfortunately, scammers can build a legitimate credit history for your child.
Here’s how it happens:
1. Your Child’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is Stolen
The first step is to steal your child’s information, such as name, home address, SSN, email address, images of their IC, identity card, etc.
If you don’t protect your child’s identity, the info above will be easy for scammers to find.
Sometimes, it may be beyond you. For example, a data breach, as in Jack’s case.
Did you know stolen SSNs are sold for as low as $2 on the Dark Web?
That’s a steal, especially considering how much damage fraudsters can cause with a child’s SSN.
Scammers can use other social engineering tactics like phishing emails, SMS phishing, and voice phishing. Or even tricking the child into revealing their sensitive info through sexting.
Thieves will ask for the following:
Your child may think they’re getting to know a friend online – because the thief will also happily provide the same info, only that they’re lying.
But in reality, they’re gathering information about your children.
2. Scammers Use Your Child’s Info to Apply for Loans or Open Bank Accounts
Getting a loan as a minor is illegal – but not impossible.
Let’s be frank, not all companies verify ages when government documentation is involved.
Plus, scammers can still use your child’s identity to file for government benefits, apply for jobs, commit tax fraud, etc.
3. Scammers Stack up Debts and Don’t Pay
Next, scammers use the child’s information to stack up debts.
And you guessed right – they won’t pay.
So, you’re left to pick up the pieces.
The crazy part is you might not know until the child applies for their credit card or a student loan.
As I mentioned earlier, this could be the worst time to find out.
Everything just CRUMBLES.
Now, you have to focus on paying a debt you didn’t owe.
The Risks of Child Identity Theft
If the financial dangers of child identity theft scare you, there are many more risks involved.
While most scammers target children to fraudulently obtain money with their identity, we’re not new to creeps on the world wide web, are we?
Check out some of the other risks that could happen if you don’t protect your child’s identity online:
Someone with your child’s sensitive details can impersonate them.
This happens when someone else collects and uses your child’s personal information, pictures, and login information on various websites. In this situation, the online criminal may inappropriately use and edit images of your child, sell them, or even claim those images are of themselves.
Cyber-criminals can use login info to access forums or other public spaces and express opinions or make comments that you or your child don’t agree with.
A friend’s colleague at work once received a barrage of messages from disappointed friends after they saw her comments on the LGBTQ+ community.
But, of course, it wasn’t her.
Apparently, someone from a third-world country had stolen her info, including pictures, to set up an Instagram account and made vile statements about queers.
She didn’t have Instagram. But it took her a long time to convince everyone she wasn’t the one.
The comments had gone live and been seen by thousands of people.
She had been invited by her office’s HR, gotten several queries, and her job was inches away from being gone.
This is how much damage fraudsters can do. Now, imagine they weren’t caught until the victim was vying for a public office or something like that.
Stalking and Grooming
I’ll be honest and say this one has always been my biggest fear.
It was only later that abuse of credit became a factor. There are so many creeps online that I used to be super worried for my child.
Cybercriminals can obtain information about your children’s names, home addresses, phone numbers, and schools. They then start grooming or stalking them.
Most kids don’t know how dangerous it is to speak to strangers online. That’s you must constantly remind them.
It’s as dangerous as speaking to strangers in public – if not more.
That new “friend” they made on Facebook might have stolen another kid’s identity to pose as their school colleague or agemate.
The friend might be significantly older. And very soon, they may trick your child into meeting somewhere private. Or, they may get an invite into your physical home.
Exposing Family Details
In some cases, your child may not be the target.
Since your kids are more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, fraudsters can use them to get to you.
They may want your sensitive information like bank or credit card statements, passwords, name, email address, etc.
How Do You Know When Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen?
Most families find out too late that their children’s identity has been stolen.
In these cases, they may have ignored tell-tale signs over the years.
To avoid being in those shoes, let’s look at some signs that your child’s identity has been compromised online:
A credit file already exists in your child’s name
Typically, only someone aged 18 and above can have a credit score. So, when your child has a credit file, their identity might have been stolen.
Another explanation might be that a credit agency mistakenly created a profile in their name – but that’s highly unlikely.
You can contact the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, to check for files in your child’s name.
I also use AnnualCreditReports.com to request a free copy of my child’s credit report.
If you find a report in your child’s name, you need to report it immediately.
Your child receives bills and credit offers in the mail
If your kids are sent pre-approved credit card offers in the mail, it’s a red flag.
Their identities have likely been used to apply for credit.
Your child can’t be named as a dependent
When you name your child as a dependent on your tax return, but you’re told they already filed for taxes.
You get letters or calls from debt collection agencies asking about your kid.
If you’re getting debt collection bills or notices addressed to your kid, it means a credit lender wants to recover unpaid debts.
Someone has obviously accrued debts in your child’s name.
Your child is denied government aid, credit, or student loans
If your child is denied student loans or credit because their SSN has already been used, then someone has applied for benefits like unemployment using their PII.
This is a clear sign of child identity theft.
You receive IRS notices or statements in your child’s name claiming unpaid taxes.
Did you see an IRS letter addressed to your child in the mailbox?
Then it means someone might have used your child’s SSN at a job.
But you should be careful. Most IRS calls are scams.
The IRS will only call if large amounts of overdue taxes are involved – and they will send a notice first.
So, only trust physical letters and confirm with the IRS at a local office before responding.
There are inappropriate emails addressed to your child
You might also get adult materials in the mail.
In cases where you know it’s not your child, someone might have used their identity to sign up for 18+ services.
If your family has an identity theft protection service, you may also be notified when someone uses your child’s SSN.
10 Tips to Protect Your Child’s Identity Online
Whether or not your child has become an identity theft victim, being proactive is the safest preventative measure.
It’s never too early to start educating your kids about the risks of online identity theft. Along with educating your child, actively work to lower their online footprint.
Here are ways to protect your child’s identity online:
1. Freeze Your Child’s Credit
I freeze my credit file, too.
So, why not do it for my kid, especially when they won’t need it for a long time?
A credit freeze restricts access to your kid’s credit reports and blocks all credit applications.
As a result, scammers can’t open new credit lines or take out loans in your child’s name.
Your child can reverse the freeze when they’re grown and need credit.
I’ll admit that the process is a bit more complicated than when I froze my credit.
But I promise it’s worth it.
You’ll contact the three credit bureaus and establish the identities of you and your child, including that you’re the legal guardian.
2. Educate Your Child About Online Safety Measures
Once your kids are old enough to be online, they’re old enough to be taught internet safety measures.
Scammers prey on the innocence of children. They know they aren’t as cautious as we adults are.
It’s paramount that you, as a parent, teach your kids how to safeguard their privacy and personal data online.
Ensure your kids know the significance of keeping their full name, date of birth, home address, and phone number a secret. This also includes the Social Security numbers (SSNs) and license information of teenagers.
Encourage your children to ignore any callers who ask for private information.
Explain that identity thieves can use caller ID to pass as someone else and that text messages, emails, phone calls, and social media DMs aren’t always from the users they claim to be.
About social media, it’s okay not to allow your kids to have social media until they’re much older. The less social media footprint, the safer your kids are online.
Tell them to contact you if they have any doubts about whether they are dealing with a scammer.
3. Help Your Kids Identify Social Engineering
Social engineering and phishing techniques are the most common ways scammers use to steal children’s identities.
Educate your children on why they shouldn’t click on links in their emails, SMS, or social media.
They should also know the importance of secure websites – the padlock and the “https.”
Your kids should know the difference between “google.com” and “g00gle.com.”
Many people use misspellings and build clone websites to gather data that they can use to commit identity theft.
Stress the importance of typing URLs rather than thoughtlessly clicking on links and double-checking the spelling before entering any personal information to avoid visiting unsafe websites.
5. Don’t Share Your Child’s SSN
Honestly, the IRS is the only organization that truly needs to know your kids’ Social Security Number (SSN).
In cases where school forms or doctors request it, you can leave it blank without any consequence.
And if you must share, ask who can access the number and how secure it is.
Think about how credible the organization is before sharing the information.
5. Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity With Parental Controls
While educating your child about online safety is important, you should also monitor them with parental controls.
Using parental controls lets you know how your child uses the internet and their devices. This helps you know if or when they’re sharing too much info or risking themselves and the family.
You can monitor content and block specific sites, manage their screen time, and even shut off internet connectivity when necessary.
6. Wipe Old Devices Clean Before Giving Them Away
Don’t forget to clear the data on old devices when you want to give them away.
Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or computer, restore to factory settings before sending them to Goodwill or giving a family member.
This prevents anyone from seeing sensitive documents, images, or files.
7. Help Your Children Create Secure Passwords With MFA
Kids don’t know that passwords should be complicated.
They’ll happily use information related to their names, addresses, date of birth, phone numbers, or other personally identifiable info.
Educate your kids on why they should mix letters, numbers, and symbols when creating passwords.
As a rule of thumb, I ensure all passwords are at least 15 characters long and are changed every two to three months.
It’s also important to use multi-factor authentication.
With 2FA, scammers who get hold of usernames and passwords still won’t be able to access accounts.
Most devices today also allow you to enable biometric logins such as Face ID or fingerprint.
8. Avoid Putting Your Child’s Pictures Online, Especially With School Uniforms
Hey, I’m not the bad guy here. This is for your children’s safety.
Parents usually disagree about how much information to post online about their children.
Ultimately, it really comes down to personal preference.
But you should be aware of the dangers.
You might end up being the target of a robbery, a stranger might take and use your child’s photos, and the information you post might be used to support a kidnapping.
Is that first day of class picture in school uniforms or next to the school entry sign necessary?
Okay, you can take the picture and save it for future reference. But do you have to put it online?
9. Use Computer Antivirus to Protect Your Personal Data on Public WiFis
Install reliable antivirus software and update regularly.
It’s the first step in preventing unauthorized access to your personal information.
Avoid using open and public networks to perform sensitive online transactions. Teach your kids to observe this security measure for computer or mobile transactions.
Some examples of good antivirus software include Kaspersky, McAfee Total Protection, and Norton.
10. Protect Physical Documents
Sensitive documents like passports, medical records, and birth certificates should be safely kept.
I know my child won’t need most of these documents for a long time, so I just keep them in my bank’s safe deposit box.
But you can as well keep them in a locked safe at home.
Teach your children to keep their student and identity cards safe and never let strangers borrow them.
One last thing.
Shred documents that are no longer needed rather than tossing them into the trash.
What Happens If Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen?
If you think your child has been a victim of identity theft, here’s what you should do:
The best way to protect your child’s identity online is to be proactive.
I have been a victim of identity theft – it’s not something you want for yourself, let alone kids.
You might find out late, which can be devastating for your child.
With the steps above, you can protect your children and educate them about the importance of being self-aware online.
Understandably, most of us are too busy with work and family commitments.
Some identity protection services can help you out. But educating your kids about safety guidelines on the internet is still your responsibility.
Encourage kids to consult you if they need clarification on anything online.
And if your child has been a victim, please don’t blame them. Don’t make them feel terrible because they fell victim.
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