When we talk about scams, people usually think of a sweet, older lady being swindled out of her retirement money. Or a grandpa asked to wire money to save a grandchild from arrest in a foreign country. But that’s really a small percentage of scam scenarios. In fact, there’s an entire demographic you might never guess is at serious risk; even more so than adults.
Whether kindergarten-aged or freshmen in college, children and teens are at greater risk for identity theft, a problem that can haunt them for years and is only getting worse. According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, 10% of children had someone else using their Social Security number, and children were targeted 51 times more frequently than adults. With spotless credit reports, children are easy, lucrative and often unnoticed targets.
So how does it happen?
Every time you fill out a form with your child’s personal information, it could fall into the wrong hands. These forms are everywhere. You fill them out at school, the doctor’s office, and at activities like sports, summer camp, and after-school programs. Like the rest of us, a child’s identity is also vulnerable to a data breach, which are becoming more and more common. Sadly, a child’s identity can also be stolen and misused by family members and friends.
The damage from a child’s identity being stolen is two-fold. First, it can go unnoticed for many years. Second, the identity theft may not be discovered until a child leaves the nest and really needs good credit: applying for their first credit card, a student loan, or renting their own apartment. Correcting even one error on a credit report takes time. Discovering you’re a victim of identity theft, especially for a teen, can feel scary and be emotionally draining. And if the identity theft happened years ago, it is typically difficult to follow the paper trail. The damage to a child’s credit may be huge and tough to mitigate.
Your Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific offers the following tips to keep your child safe as they head back to school:
• Don’t allow them to carry around their social security card. Leave it at home and locked in a safe place.
• If a business or school asks for their SSN, ask questions. Why do they need it and where and how is this information being stored? Who has access to it? How long is it being stored and how will it be disposed?
• Educate your child on being safe if they are active in the online world. Keep detailed personal information off social media profiles.
• Use strong passwords, and shred documents with personal information. Check your child’s credit report for incorrect information, especially when they turn 16.
• Warning signs: even if you do everything in your power to safeguard your child’s personal information, identity theft can still happen. Watch out for these red flags: calls from collection agencies; bills sent to your home in your child’s name; your child receives a warrant, ticket, or notice about owed taxes; your child is denied a loan, apartment, or credit card because of bad credit; or your child is unable to obtain a driver’s license or denied a renewal.
• If your child’s young, freeze their credit until they need access to it. It’s now free to do so.
What to do if you’ve been affected: if your child has been a victim of identity theft, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to fix the problem. The FTC says to call each credit reporting company and contact any business where your child’s information was misused. IdentityTheft.gov/child is a one-stop shop to report the problem and learn steps to solving it. Additionally, report identity theft, and any other fraud or scams, to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.