Your children may be less safe online than you think — even before they ever use a computer.
More than 1 million children were victims of identity fraud in 2017, a new study from Javelin Strategy & Research found, costing a total of $2.6 billion. With limited financial history or existing account activity, children are the most likely to become victims of new-account fraud, the research showed.
These attacks can occur before children even become active internet users, with some two-thirds of victims being under the age of eight. The overall numbers are likely even higher, said Al Pascual, research director at Javelin said, since their study relied on parents and guardians reporting cases of identity theft.
In many cases, the parent or another relative may be the one using a child’s identity to start a new account.
Perhaps the most unnerving detail in the report: The most common perpetrator of childhood identity theft is a family friend, accounting for 33 percent of the incidents.
“If I am a parent and the lights have gone out, and I’m having a hard time making ends meet, using my child’s identity to start a new account with the utility company may seem worth it,” Pascual said. “I am doing right by them and not hurting them.”
Other times, identities are compromised before they are even issued to children. Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer of Cisco became an advocate for child identity theft prevention after her daughter was a victim of identity theft at the age of eight.
Sometimes people do not know their identity has been compromised until they enter adulthood and apply for college, a car, or a home only to realize their credit has already been wrecked.
“Absolutely be as vigilant about your child’s online reputation before they touch a device as you would about any other financial vehicle in your family because it can destroy families,” she said. It can impact a child’s ability to get a college scholarship and could lead to a long line of debt collectors, she added.
Here are some ways to prevent attacks on your family:
- Check your child’s credit from the beginning: Children are assigned Social Security Numbers at birth in the US, but that doesn’t always mean they begin with good credit. Dennedy said it’s important to run a credit check and freeze a child’s credit from a young age to prevent new accounts being opened under your child’s identity.
- Teach your children about security: As children go online at younger ages, basic privacy and security practices are more important than ever to instill in them from the beginning. “It starts with good hygiene,” Pascual said. “With personal information like birthday and address, or if they happen to know their Social Security Number, if someone wants to know they can talk to mom and dad.”
- Secure physical identification documents: Because children’s identities are most often stolen by relatives or other acquaintances, it’s important to keep documents that hold sensitive information secure, Pascual said. That means keeping items like Social Security Cards and birth certificates locked away from visitors in the home.
- Stay vigilant about bullying: A child who is bullied at school may be at higher risk of being compromised. Some 23 percent of teens have been bullied online, according to a 2018 study from the National Cyber Security Alliance. “These are much softer targets, they are more easily manipulated,” Pascual said. “These same types of qualities could make them more prone to approving things they shouldn’t: A lack of ability to speak up, mistaking cruel gestures for friendship.”
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