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As parents, keeping your kids safe is a 24/7 job. You make sure they wear helmets while riding a bike and pay attention to how much screen time they're getting. But making sure online scammers don’t steal your child’s identity? That's likely not on your list.
However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that four to six percent of identity theft complaints the agency received between 2014 to 2016 included victims aged 19 years and under. So how can you tell if your child’s identity has been stolen? The FTC says that if your child is getting credit card offers in the mail, collection calls, bills for goods you never received, or notice from the FBI saying your child either didn’t pay taxes or her Social Security number was used on other returns, those are all red flags that your child might be the victim of identity theft.
Tip #1: Stay vigilant against phishing attempts
Unfortunately, children's identities can be easier to hack without parents realizing what's going on. "Thieves target children’s identities because they’re typically harder to detect," Christopher Rees, an instructor at tech workplace development company Pluralsight, tells Yahoo Life.
In a recent report, TransUnion found that younger consumers were "the most targeted" out of any other generation when it came to digital fraud attempts during the pandemic. According to TransUnion's statistics, phishing attempts in general increased by 21 percent worldwide, with the growth linked to fraud associated with COVID-19.
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Tip #2: Contact the 3 credit reporting agencies
If you suspect or have confirmed that your child is the victim of identity theft, reach out to the major credit reporting companies and ask for their policies regarding child identity theft. "Contact the credit bureau [which] may require documentation such as birth certificate, social security card, parent’s ID, proof of address, etc.," says Rees.
In some cases, you might need additional documentation to prove that your child is a minor in your care. In which case, you might need to sign an affidavit called the Uniform Minor Status Declaration.
Rees explains that you’ll need to tell the agencies that your child has been the victim of identity theft, and that she is a minor and therefore unable to legally enter into any sort of contract. Ask each agency in writing to remove all line items and notes associated with your child’s name and/or social security number — what Rees calls a manual search, which is a process that includes all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices.
The State of Georgia's Consumer Protection Division recommends asking for an initial fraud alert to be placed in your child’s credit file. This alert requires creditors to verify a person’s identity before extending credit. The good news about filing the alert is that when you report it to one credit reporting agency, they must inform the other two credit reporting agencies. The fraud alert remains in your child’s file for 90 days, but you can renew it after 90 days.
After you create the report, Rees suggests you place an extended fraud alert on your child’s credit file. "Place [the] child credit freeze at each credit bureau, making it harder to open new credit in the child’s name," says Rees. "Once the child turns 18 or needs credit, they can remove it."
Freezing your child's account will also allow you to obtain two free credit reports from each of the credit reporting agencies within 12 months. In addition, the agencies must take your child’s name off of marketing lists for prescreened credit promotions and offers. An extended alert lasts for seven years.
Tip #3: Go over best practices with your child
Conversations about identity theft protection can start early. Talk to your child about online safety and security, and let her know what information is not appropriate or safe to share online. In addition, make sure to discuss why your older child needs to safeguard her social security number. Practice scenarios where someone might pretend to be a friend or a family member to extract personal information from them.
Tip #4: Talk to your child’s school
The FTC recommends that parents check with their child’s school — does the facility have a student directory? Often these compilations will include your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. You have the right to opt-out of your child’s placement in the school directory. The FTC says it’s best to put your request in writing and keep a record for your files.
According to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), “Schools may disclose, without consent, 'directory' information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance.”
FERPA does state that schools need to inform families about any such directories and “allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.”
Schools are under an annual obligation to advise parents and students about their rights under FERPA. Under the law, the details of notification — such as a letter, inclusion in a PTSA newsletter, or a student handbook — is left for each school to decide.
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