Preventing Child ID Theft
We live in an era where high-tech crime is as commonplace as failing city governments, over-crowded classrooms in our public schools and juvenile social behavior that would have earned our parents a trip to the woodshed. These trends mark an unrelenting assault on the very fabric of the American lifestyle, but alarmingly are not as diabolical as an emerging threat that continues to grow every minute of every day. I am referring to Identity Theft, a vicious crime that can deeply scar you and your family for years to come.
Security and database breaches are on the rise. From healthcare to game companies to trusted third-party security firms, a number of significant breaches were reported in 2011. This year alone millions of records were compromised at the hands of: Comodo, RSA, Epsilon, WordPress, Sony, Citibank, CyWorld, Tricare, Facebook, Steam; even the US Government Office of Personnel Management lost accountability of records containing the most personal information on US citizens. Unless you remain vigilant you may not even be aware that your personal information has been compromised.
Whether it happens at the hands of gross negligence, incompetence or some tragic accident, it’s important to remember that much of the security and database breaches involved minor children. Names, dates of birth, sex and social security account numbers of children were also included in some of the records that were lost. Sadly, child identify theft is more than a hypothetical crime. It is a very real crime with very real and long lasting negative effects. Without taking some simple precautionary measures the same can happen to your children.
The Most Important Piece of Information Needed to Steal Someone’s Identity
One of the most important pieces of information a thief needs to steal someone’s identify and send a life into a tailspin is a Social Security Account Number. A child’s SSN is a thief’s Coup-d’état, because misuse has an increased probability of going undetected for years. The underlying reason why social security account numbers have become so valuable for stealing one’s identity—aside from the convenience—is that the database is astronomical in scope and is individually unique. Armed with this personalized number, a thief can reap rewards and ruin the credit histories of unsuspecting victims in a seedy con-game that knows no boundaries.
Unfortunately, thieves don’t have to look very far for a new SSN. Virtually all local, state and federal agencies use it as a means of identification, as do all three major credit reporting agencies, and given the culpability that these agencies bare for known breaches, the magnitude of the threat are quite clear. The broad-ranging scope of these bureaucracies is massive and for this single reason you must be on constant guard to protect your family’s SSNs from compromise.
Protect Your Children
In your role as a parent you are duty-bound to carefully read over forms that you prepare on behalf of your child. Make a well informed decision on whether or not the information requested is mandatory for the services you seek, or required when granting parental consent. One strategy that often goes unchallenged is leaving the space blank. If that doesn’t work, ask why the information is needed and how it is used, and equally important ask how it is protected. Don’t accept the first response as absolute. Continue with probing questions to the point that you exhaust all doubt before releasing your child’s personal data. Protect your child’s social security account number with the same ferocity that a momma grizzly protects her cubs from circling wolves.
Safeguard other bits of information that would be useful to an identify thief, as well. Your child’s middle name, date and place of birth, address; any personal information should be closely held. Shred everything that has this information imprinted on it. While these may seem like tidbits, they are akin to the first cuts that ultimately produce a gem in the hands of someone out to steal your identity and cause costly damage to your credit, and dim plans for fostering a bright future for your child.
This is especially critical as it relates to your older children using social networking sites such as Facebook. It saddens me when I see kids (some parents are guilty of this as well) posting picture of themselves in their athletic or band uniform. Now another piece to an identity has been made known – what school the child attends. Furthermore, some well meaning parents allow their child to have a Facebook page “so long as you don’t use your full name.” So instead of First and Last name being listed on the profile, only the child’s First and Middle names are used. Again, another dangerous faux pas that provides yet another piece of personal information – the middle name of your minor child – which should be well protected.
It’s important to regularly monitor your child’s Social Security Number. You can get free copies of your child’s credit report each year. There are also various companies that monitor this for you. They constantly scan for alerts and activity associated with your child’s name and or SSN. Most third party vendors charge a nominal monthly fee for this service. It is certainly worthwhile if you consider the potential damage identify theft can cause.
It’s also a wise idea to set up a Google news alert on your child’s name. That way you can keep tabs on what others may be saying about your child or what activity is surrounding that particular name. My kids get a kick out of it because we get email alerts on their names, and clearly it’s a different person with the same name. If there was something that appeared fishy or out of the norm, I could investigate it at the time it happens, rather than be surprised years later. It gives an added peace of mind knowing you’re not living with your head in the sand as to what possibility could be occurring with your child’s identity.
Finally, be on constant alert for unsolicited mail that arrives at your home addressed to your minor child. This should immediately set off alarm bells. You should have very serious concern about an airline sending information to your six year old about the benefits of its Frequent Flyer program, not to mention department store advertisements, magazine subscriptions and bulk item junk mail. This is a clear indication that your child’s identify is being misused.
The motto “To Protect and Serve” may have been originally coined by law enforcement officials, but it is also applicable to all parents today as it relates to their child’s identity – to protect their precious nine digit social security number and serve as the front line of defense by regularly monitoring it for unscrupulous activity, and keeping the light on for a bright future.
About the Author: Laurie Ayers is a mom, speaker, author and personal safety and crime prevention specialist who has given seminars in schools, organizations and corporations. Her message is inspiring, humorous and empowering, delivering the importance of making wise choices to protect ourselves and those we love. She is an active contributor on the subjects of preventing abduction and crime avoidance. She holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and is the co-founder of Defensive Countermeasures Institute. You can connect with Laurie at Ayers on the Side of Caution.