For parents, back-to-school season equals lots of paperwork — not only for school enrollment, but also for youth sports, clubs and even a teen’s first after-school job. Unfortunately, the piles of paper often leave a child vulnerable to identity theft, an increasingly serious problem in this country.
The number of reported child identity theft cases in the U.S. has increased by 200 percent since 2003, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab study found one in 10 children has had his or her identity compromised.
Despite the increasing prevalence of this problem, more than 80 percent of parents with minor children say they are largely unfamiliar with child identity theft, according to Equifax, a Georgia-based company.
As children head back to school during the next few weeks, identity experts at Equifax suggest parents slow down and carefully consider how and why they hand over a child’s information.
“As parents today, we are all busy, so it’s tempting to quickly fill out paperwork without questioning it,” Trey Loughran, president of the Personal Solutions unit at Equifax, said in a release. “However, it is important to be careful about how and why you share your child’s information. Identity theft is a very personal crime, and it can take years to get a child’s identity back after it’s been stolen.”
Key identity theft protection tips for back-to-school season include:
- Carry your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you only when absolutely necessary.
- Unless you initiate contact, do not provide your child’s Social Security number (or any part of it) over the phone, online or in-person.
- 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?
- Lock birth certificates and documents with your child’s Social Security number in a safe place.
- Purchase and use a cross-cut shredder.
- Talk with your children about identity theft. Create a safe environment with open dialogue. Leave the door open for them to ask questions or express concerns.
- Most schools ask for personal identifying information. Ask if this is optional or if another form of identification such as a utility bill is sufficient.
- Never use your child’s Social Security number to open accounts for your benefit. This may be tempting if you have bad credit, but not paying bills on time could keep your child from getting credit cards, student loans, an apartment, or even a job when they turn 18.
Learn more about child identity theft here.