March 20, 2019
Kids today are growing up in a world where information is readily accessible, which means the threat of information falling into the wrong hands is a prevalent risk. Identity theft that targets children is a fast-growing crime that can go undetected for years, however, there are simple ways you can safeguard your child's personal information now to avoid a major headache later when they are ready to start applying for credit cards, obtaining college loans, or renting their first apartment.
Protect important documents.
Keep social security cards, birth certificates, and other sensitive information in a secure place, like a safe or lockbox, and make sure electronic records are password protected. This will ensure the information is readily available to you when needed, but not easily accessible by potential thieves or fraudsters. Your wallet is not the best place to store information that is not needed on a daily basis because it can easily be misplaced or stolen. It's also in your child's best interest to limit the circulation of their social security number. Instead of writing out the full number, opt to share just the last four digits when possible. Furthermore, when you need to dispose of sensitive documents, it is important to shred the papers before tossing them in the trash.
Limit online sharing.
Social media keeps us connected to friends and family, but any information shared online can be misused. Limit sharing of details that could be valuable to thieves or fraudsters including birthdays or locations of birth. When the time comes for your children to have their own social media accounts or email addresses, ensure there are optimal security settings in place and discuss the importance of being cautious online. Educate them on the importance of not sharing information with strangers, being careful of who they communicate with online, and even how to detect suspicious activity or potential scams.
Stay alert and act early.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a child's 16th birthday as a good time to check if they have an existing credit report. The existence of a credit report tied to a child could be a sign of identity theft. Doing a credit check around this time gives ample time to act and resolve issues before they need to start applying for credit of their own. However, if they begin receiving suspicious mail or collection notices at any time, it's beneficial to check your child's credit sooner to reduce the amount of damage that could be done over time.
If you suspect that your child is a victim of identity theft, you can freeze your child's credit by contacting the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You will also need to file a police report, notify businesses if illegitimate accounts were opened, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Contact your local financial institution for additional information and resources.
Jim Oosterman is the Senior Vice of Melrose Bank and a lifelong resident of Melrose. He can be reached by telephone at 781-665-2500, online at melrosebank.com, or on Facebook at facebook.com/MelroseBank.