Child identity theft is on the rise due in large part to the popularity of online gaming and social networks and the ever-increasing digital world we live in. In fact, according to a recent report from Carnegie Mellon's CyLab, the rate of identity theft for children is 51 times higher than the rate for adults. Identity theft for children can be pretty damaging, as most cases go undetected for years. I've seen cases where children have thousands in credit card debt and multiple mortgages. I've also seen cases where a child's social security number has been used to secure a job or receive government benefits.
Why is identity theft rising? One reason may be because child identity protection awareness among parents is at a low point. At CSID, we conducted a 2013 Child Identity Theft survey and found that only half of the parents we polled were aware that child identity theft is a growing trend. And out of the parents who are aware that child identity theft cases are rising, more than half of them -- 52 percent -- are not currently taking any measures to prevent the misuse of their child's online information. The repercussions of child identity theft can be damaging to a child's financial future and the issue shouldn't be ignored.
To reduce the number of child identity theft cases, it's important for parents to get in the know. Here are a few tips for parents to help prevent child identity theft from occurring.
1. Ask about security policies
Your child's school and extracurricular activity coordinators should know how your child's information is being used, how their files will be guarded and how this personal data is being disposed of. Don't add your child's social security number or date of birth to forms where it doesn't seem necessary. If you have objections to adding personal information about your child on a form, don't be afraid to speak up. The FTC says that you have the legal right to protect your child's personal information.
2. Stay up to date on technology
As technologies and popular social networking platforms shift, be sure to stay up-to-date on what your kids are using and how these networks share information. A hot new app may be revealing more of your child's personal information than you'd like. Major social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are also a hotspot for hackers, as they house a lot of personal data. If you hear of a data breach, make sure your child changes their passwords immediately. CSID has a newsroom Tumblr that keeps you informed of the latest security threats out there.
3. Talk to your children about online dangers -- including identity theft
It's important for you to teach your children about the dangers of online predators, cyberbullying and the impact of child identity theft. Teach them the value of locking up their personal information online with strong passwords, just as you lock up your home to keep bad guys out. Strong passwords are long, do not include any personal references that can easily be found on social networking sites (like a pet's name, your street address or your phone number) and should have complicated number and symbol patterns. You can also share with them these five pieces of information kids should never share online.
4. Use monitoring and identity protection services
Using monitoring and identity protection services for your children can help alert you if someone is misusing your child's information. The trouble with child identity theft is that most cases go unnoticed for years, so by the time a child is old enough to open a bank loan, their credit has been ruined. You can also responsibly and respectfully monitor your children's online activities by checking on the information they have displayed in their profiles and making sure their comments do not give away too much personal information. GigaOM's Mathew Ingram recently wrote a series about monitoring his daughter's online activities -- a recommended read for parents who monitor or are considering monitoring their child's online activities.
5. Talk to other parents
Find out how much other parents know about child identity theft and share online monitoring tips. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides many great articles for parents about child identity theft, including the dangers of social networks, how foster children are key targets for identity theft and many others. Building a safe online community for your children can help reduce fraudulent activity online.
In "How to Prevent Child Identity Theft Part Two," we will explore how businesses can help prevent child identity theft from occurring.