Perhaps the most valuable piece of currency on the Internet today is personal information. Just as in real life, it needs to be zealously guarded and protected from falling into the wrong hands, as we point out in Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.
Case in point: Scammers can use nefariously-obtained personal info to open credit card accounts, purchase expensive items and commit other illegal activities that can harm your credit, personal standing and reputation. And although such crimes using provide just a momentarily gratifying experience for the criminal, they can lead to years and years of grief and confusion for the identity theft victim.
According to the most recent data available from the FTC, less than 1% of identity theft victims were under 19 years old. But many experts think that this statistic is inaccurate, as many families don’t discover identity theft until their children are around 18 and beginning to enter the workforce or college and attempt to access their own credit for the first time. A 2011 survey from ID Analytics estimated 140,000 instances of identity fraud are committed against minors each year. And FTC identity protection specialist Steve Toporoff recently told an NBC investigator that “recent studies suggest child identity theft is more prevalent than even identity theft against adults.”
To help protect your family, make sure your kids understand what private information is. An easy way to do this is to let them know that anything that can be used to identify them in real life should be considered confidential. Whether it’s your name, phone number, address or even the school which your children attend, this information should be safeguarded and only given out when absolutely necessary, and with a grown-up’s permission.
It’s also important to realize that there are generational differences at play here, and things that may seem obvious to you not to share aren’t necessarily so for your kids. In a recent survey by Pew Internet Research about the future impact of the Internet, two-thirds of experts thought the Millennial generation will lead society into a new world of personal disclosure and information-sharing using new media. So while Baby Boomers may be more apt to keep their info guarded, these experts said that such so-called “digital natives,” whom we refer to as Generation Tech, will continue to share more and more personal information as part of their daily online lives as they grow older.
Nonetheless, the experts from the survey do agree that a “trial-and-error period is unfolding and will continue over the next decade, as people adjust to new realities about how social networks perform and as new boundaries are set about the personal information that is appropriate to share.”
- Lifelock, Identity Guard or Trusted ID and other protection services may be worth the investment for your family if identity theft is an issue you are particularly worried about. For often as little as $10 a month, these services will keep an eye on your personal information and, in some cases, even monitor your credit reports for you.
- At least once a year, it’s good to check up on credit reports for you and all members of your family. This can be done by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. According to the Federal Trade Commisssion, this is the only site authorized to provide you with the free credit report you’re entitled to by law. If you find something wrong, you’ll not only want to contact the credit companies directly, but also the proper authorities. All this information can found at www.ftc.gov.
- Teach your kids to practice safe computing habits and password guarding, just as you guard your ATM code when using an ATM machine.
- The FBI also recently warned families against a surprising side-effect of posting images online: The potential accessing of geolocation tags embedded in the image to show exactly where on earth the picture was taken. This could be dangerous because you could be unwittingly letting others know where you live and work via photos you are posting online. We recommend disabling all “Location Services” on your family’s smartphones, which can easily be done on the Settings menu of most devices.
- Credit service Equifax recently launched a family plan that keeps tabs on the identities of two adults and up to four children, but it comes with a potentially steep monthly price tag. For the price, parents can get an e-mail or text message whenever someone tries to use any of their family’s IDs.
- Although this advice may seem obvious, be certain to protect your child’s social security number. Don’t be afraid to question if entering it is really necessary on any form, or giving it out in response to a query is required. And if it is, make sure you’re comfortable knowing that the place you’re turning it over to, be it a school or a doctor’s office, will adequately protect it.
- If your child starts getting junk mail or credit card applications, that may be a sign that someone is using their identity. Contact the credit bureaus and check to see if they have a report.
- It’s important to distinguish that you’re only checking to see if a report exists when you contact credit companies. Unless you’ve been a victim of identity theft, they shouldn’t have one, and ordering one could cause the credit bureaus to open one in your name, which is unnecessary.
- Think twice before sharing your child’s name online or in public. Whether it’s on your Facebook and Twitter page or on stickers you place on your car, it’s possible that the wrong person can see this information and use this information to steal their identity.
- The first step if you think you are a victim of identity theft is to place a fraud alert with one of the credit companies. Once you contact them, verify that they will contact the other two credit bureaus about the fraud alert as well. You can contact any of the three:
Equifax – 1‑800‑525‑6285
Experian – 1‑888‑397‑3742
TransUnion – 1‑800‑680‑7289
- In addition to taking steps to close any fraudulent accounts you find about, you’ll also need to file an Identity Theft Report and a Police Report to begin the process of straightening the identity theft out. For starters, you can download and fill out the FTC Affidavit. Once you’ve done that, you can then take that form to your local police department and use it to fill out a police report.
- After that, you can call the credit companies and request an extended fraud alert, which will stay in effect for seven years.
- For more specific tips on what to do if you or your family fall victims to identity theft, make sure to check out this helpful guide from the FTC which contains checklists and step-by-step instructions for what to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
- The FTC also offers a comprehensive site discussing many aspects of identity theft, including tips for how to avoid it at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.
For more, also be sure to see Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.