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As children go back to school, beware of identity thieves

Tips to thwart an underreported threat

As children go back to school, beware of identity thieves

Whether you are enrolling your kindergartener in school for the first time, equipping your middle school child with his first smart phone, or sending your daughter to high school with a debit card, it's important during the back-to-school season to be vigilant about safeguarding your children's identities, says Equifax.

Back-to-school brings reams of paperwork, from after-school program forms to sports team physicals to school registration documents. The details parents provide in these forms can leave children vulnerable to identity theft, an increasingly serious problem that might not be discovered until a child applies for credit as a young adult.

A 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research found that at least 2.5% of U.S. households with children under age 18 experienced child identity fraud. Researchers also concluded that child identity theft is under-reported, because the crime may not come to light until the child is older.

Identity protection experts at Equifax urge parents to ask questions before handing over their child's personal information.

"It's important to ask why an organization needs your child's full name, date of birth, and Social Security number," says Trey Loughran, president of the Personal Solutions unit at Equifax. "This is your child's identity—it's something parents should not give away casually, especially as the incidence of identity theft continues to grow among Americans of all ages."

Tips for the back-to-school season include:

  • Carry your child's Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport with you only when necessary.
  • When not in use, keep these documents locked in a safe place.
  • If you are asked for your child's Social Security number, ask these three questions: Why is it needed? Isn't there another way to identify my child? How will my child's information be protected? Only reveal your child's Social Security number if you have no other option.
  • Before providing information, ask how the school or organization stores and discards sensitive documents.
  • Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy documents with your child's full name and other identifying details, including date of birth.
  • Teach your children the importance of protecting their personal information on social media. Children should never post their full name, address, date of birth, or other details on social media sites.
  • Make sure your kids use passwords for their smart phones and tablets, and teach them the importance of changing passwords frequently and never sharing passwords with others.
  • Teach older kids with credit, debit, and ATM cards to check their statements each month and be discreet when keying in PINs.
  • Consider a credit monitoring and identity theft protection product for your family that can help protect the identities of two adults and up to four minor children in one comprehensive plan.
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