Remember the good days when all you had to worry about was shredding your garbage?
The truth is much of our children’s information is already out there. As parents, we’re constantly filling out forms for sporting activities, youth clubs, and even visits to the dentist or doctor. All those registration forms, all those instances of your child’s personal identification data floating around out there. Do you know who’s keeping that data secure, and how?
Here are some alarming statistics:
- The average age of an identity theft victim now is in elementary school.
- The averaged debt incurred by child ID theft victims is $12,779.
- A million or more families in the U.S. have been exposed to data breaches.
Most adults know they should be on the lookout for signs their personal information has been compromised, but children seem to be at greater risk these days. A recent study done by Richard Power, a fellow at Carnegie Mellon CyLab, used identity scans of more than 40,000 U.S. children. It found 10.2 percent had someone else using their Social Security number; that’s 51 times higher than the 0.2 percent rate for adults in the same population.
Why do identity thieves target kids? Because they have new, “unused” Social Security numbers (parents must get a Social Security number for their infants in order to claim the dependent tax deduction), and because they’re unlikely to have a file with the credit-reporting bureaus, much less a credit monitoring service.
Studies show most identity thieves get their hands on identifying information in many ways. Doctors offices, day cares, hospitals, schools, sports teams all commonly ask for SSNs and all are sources of ID thefts. Mason encourages parents, “Don’t be shy, ask why.” Why is the SSN needed? How will the organization protect the data? Is there another ID number that can be used?
He notes that 33 states collect Social Security numbers as part of K-12 enrollment, but 80 percent of states don’t have proper data retention policies to protect IDs. Reported data breaches at educational institutions are on the rise, and several medical providers and insurers in Oregon have reported that personal ID information has been stolen, lost or compromised.
In addition, kids are famously unwise about their computer use, both in sites they visit (perhaps clicking on ads or sites a grownup would understand are suspect) and in the personal information they share. Netsmartz has a good guide to keeping kids safe online.