It wasn’t Kiley’s fault, but that didn’t change the facts: The lending group denied her college loan due to poor credit, and she didn’t have a plan B. Shocked and numb, she began to dig a little deeper. She discovered that someone had racked up three hefty credit card bills using her Social Security Number (SSN) a few years earlier.
Her parents had a medical crisis and were unable to help with tuition, and Kiley’s scholarships didn’t cover the full tuition. With just months left before leaving to begin her freshman year at school, Kiley was forced to radically adjusted her plans. She enrolled in the community college near home and spent her freshman year learning more than she ever imagined about identity protection and theft.
The Toll: Financial & Emotional
Unfortunately, these horror stories of childhood identity theft are all too real. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 1 million children were the victim of identity fraud in 2017, resulting in losses of $2.6 billion and more than $540 million in out-of-pocket costs to the families.
The financial numbers don’t begin to reflect the emotional cost victims of identity theft often feel. According to the 2017 Identity Theft Aftermath report released by the Identity Theft Resource Center, victims report feeling rage, severe distress, angry, frustrated, paranoid, vulnerable, fearful, and — in 7% of the cases — even suicidal.
Wanted: Your Child’s SSN
Sadly, because of their clean credit history, cyber crooks love to target kids. Also, identity theft among kids often goes undiscovered for more extended periods of time. Thieves have been known to use a child’s identity to apply for government benefits, open bank or credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. Often, until the child grows up and applies for a car or student loan, the theft goes undetected.
Where do hackers get the SSN’s? Data breaches can occur at schools, pediatrician offices, banks, and home robberies. A growing area of concern involves medical identity theft, which gives thieves the ability to access prescription drugs and even expensive medical treatments using someone else’s identity.
6 Ways to Build #CyberAware Kids
- Talk, act, repeat. Identity theft isn’t a big deal until it personally affects you or your family only, then, it’s too late. Discuss identity theft with your kids and the fallout. But don’t just talk — put protections in place. Remind your child (again) to keep personal information private. (Yes, this habit includes keeping passwords and personal data private even from BFFs!)
- Encourage kids to be digitally savvy. Help your child understand the tricks hackers play to steal the identities of innocent people. Identity thieves will befriend children online and with the goal of gathering personal that information to steal their identity. Thieves are skilled at trolling social networks looking at user profiles for birth dates, addresses, and names of family members to piece together the identity puzzle. Challenge your kids to be on the hunt for imposters and catfishes. Teach them to be suspicious about links, emails, texts, pop up screens, and direct messages from “cute” but unknown peers on their social media accounts. Teach them to go with their instincts and examine websites, social accounts, and special shopping offers.
- Get fierce about data protection. Don’t be quick to share your child’s SSN or secondary information such as date of birth, address, and mothers’ maiden name and teach your kids to do the same. Also, never carry your child’s (or your) physical Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Keep it in a safe place, preferably under lock and key. Only share your child’s data when necessary (school registration, passport application, education savings plan, etc.) and only with trusted individuals.
- File a proactive fraud alert. By submitting a fraud alert in your child’s name with the credit bureaus several times a year, you will be able to catch any credit fraud early. Since your child hasn’t built any credit, anything that comes back will be illegal activity. The fraud alert will remain in place for only 90 days. When the time runs out, you’ll need to reactivate the alert. You can achieve the same thing by filing an earnings report from the Social Security Administration. The report will reveal any earnings acquired under your child’s social security number.
- Know the warning signs. If a someone is using your child’s data, you may notice: 1) Pre-approved credit card offers addressed to them arriving via mail 2) Collection agencies calling and asking to speak to your child 3) Court notices regarding delinquent bills. If any of these things happen your first step is to call and freeze their credit with the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Report theft. If you find a violation of your child’s credit of any kind go to IdentityTheft.gov to report the crime and begin the restoring your child’s credit. This site is easy to navigate and takes you step-by-step down the path of restoring stolen credit.
Building digitally resilient kids is one of the primary tasks of parents today. Part of that resilience is taking the time to talk about this new, digital frontier that is powerful but has a lot of security cracks in it that can negatively impact your family. Getting fierce about identity protection can save your child (and you) hours and even years of heartache and financial loss.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her onTwitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures)