Keeping Your Kids Safe From Identity Theft
We've all heard about, and many of us have experienced, identity theft. While this is all too common among adults, it is becoming more and more prevalent with children's information. This very real, and all too scary, situation can have some serious consequences for you and your family. If someone is misusing your child's personal information and committing fraud, you and your child could be turned down for Social Security benefits, have difficulty filing taxes and end up in collections for products and services that you didn't order, contract for or receive.
There are laws in place to help you with safeguarding your child's and your family's information. The federal Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records and allows you to opt-out of sharing contact or directory information with class members.
This is certainly a situation where an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. To help prevent the theft of your child's identity:
1. Store all paper and electronic records that show your child's personal information in a secure place. You may want to consider a fire-proof safe or a lock box particularly if there is a break-in, documents were lost or stolen from a purse or wallet, or there is an adult in your home who may want to use your child's information to start a new identity.
2. Shred all documents that contain identity information - don't just throw it away.
3. Don't share your child's Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary and you trust the person or organization asking for it. Wherever possible ask to use different information to identify your child or if you can use just the last four digits of the SSN.
4. Verify that schools and physicians' offices are keeping all identity information in a secure location.
5. Find out how your child's school is using the personal information that is asked for on forms and if it will be shared and who will have access to it.
6. You have the option of opting-out of your school's directory. This prevents the sharing of your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number and the names of parents or guardians. Make sure that you put your request in writing to the school.
When your son or daughter reaches 16, it is a good idea to check their credit report with the three major credit reporting agencies. This will alert you to any issues of fraud or misuse and will give you the time to report and correct the problem before they are in the situation of applying for vehicle or educational loans, rent an apartment or apply for a job.
The good news is that credit reporting agencies are expanding their services to cover children as well as adults.