When school lets out for summer, children will race toward memorable times with friends and family.
But what are they leaving behind? Let’s hope it’s not their identities.
Children are ideal targets for identity thieves because they have no credit history and no reason to check their credit report. More than 10 percent of children had their Social Security numbers misused by someone else, according to a recent Carnegie Mellon CyLab report.
And schools are one of the big record keepers when it comes to our children’s personal information. Consider these recent news reports:
• Miami-Dade Public Schools: The daughter of a prominent former education board member stole a child’s identity to pay her electric bills. This was just one of several identity theft cases in the district in recent years.
• The Wake County School System, Raleigh, N.C.: 5,000 postcards were accidently mailed with student’s Social Security numbers printed on the front.
• Illinois Department of Education: Two laptops containing personal information on 7,800 special-education students and 2,600 teachers from 42 suburban Chicago schools were stolen.
• El Paso Independent School Distinct: A data breach exposed 63,000 students’ and 9,000 employees’ personal information, including their Social Security numbers. The data was posted to a hacker website, free to anyone to view.
It’s not just the computer system or front office filing cabinets that are at risk. Sometimes personal information can trickle into homework assignments. For example, students are often asked to assemble family trees that include birthdates for discussions about heritage. In Arizona, one teacher asked students to include relatives’ names, birthdates and Social Security numbers.
So what can you do to keep your child’s information safe at school?
1. Never give out your child’s Social Security number unless you trust the recipient. Question why the school or teacher needs it, what they will do with it, and how they plan on safeguarding it.
2. Teach your child the risks of providing personal information, such as a SSN or mother’s maiden name, to anyone outside the immediate family—even trusted school officials. No school personnel should ever ask a child for information. It is the parent’s to give.
3. Ask teachers and school office staff to shred anything with your child’s personal information on it. Ask them directly about their data destruction policy.
4. Watch out for warning signs, such as credit cards arriving in the child’s name or calls from creditors regarding current and past-due debts. It’s a sure sign your child’s identity has been hijacked.
5. Check to see if your child has a credit report. It’s good news if there is no credit file with your child’s name and SSN. To check if one exists, complete the Child Identity Theft Inquiry with TransUnion, one of the three national credit reporting companies.
Finally, if you think your child may be a victim of identity theft, call your bank, credit union, insurer or financial planner to see if they offer identity theft management services. Some financial institutions offer this service for free as a perk for being a member or account holder.
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