September 14, 2015

Back to School: The ABC of Child Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

Back-to-school is always a busy and exciting time... especially for identity thieves.

Child identity theft is on the rise. Enrolling children in school, signing them up for after-school clubs, and often giving teens their first debit card when they start secondary school can put their identities at risk. 

One US study found that at least 2.5% of households with children under the age of 18 (1 in 40 households) had experienced some kind of identity fraud at some point during their child’s lifetime. However, the numbers are likely to be higher because child identity theft in many cases is under-reported. Often the theft is discovered only when the child has grown up and applies for credit as a young adult.

According to Equifax, there are two categories of child identity thief; unknown perpetrators and more surprisingly, family members. “A reality of child identity theft is the fact that parents or family members of a child have been found to use the child’s identifying information, often in times of desperation. Be it job loss or mounting debt, they are compelled to take advantage of their child’s “clean” credit history.”

Here are some tips on how to protect your family from child identity fraud:

  • Last year, the education sector reported the third highest number of data breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office. When providing any personally identifiable information to a school or organisation, find out how sensitive documents are stored and discarded. Security experts recommend that they partner with a secure shredding company that provides locked consoles and a secure chain of custody.
  • Store children's personal information (including birth certificate and passport) securely under lock and key, in a lockable filing cabinet for example.  
  • Shred all documents that show a child’s personal information when no longer needed rather than putting them in the rubbish or recycling bin. If your workplace has a shredding programme, ask if employees can bring in documents. Or, take advantage of a local community shredding event in your town.
  • Teach children to protect their personal information wherever they are, but especially on social media. Never post full names, addresses, date of birth and other details.
  • Equip smartphones, laptops, and tablets with password protection. Remind everyone in the family to change their passwords frequently and to never share passwords.
  • Remember to securely dispose of hard drives and other electronic media when they are out-dated or broken. Hard drive destruction is a proven way to protect information.

Learn more about identity theft  and how your child’s school can also help to protect their data.