If you use a credit or debit card at retailers, bank online, or even work for the federal government, you've likely received at least one written notification that your personal or financial information has been compromised. While these hacking attempts can lead you to change the way you shop and conduct business online, you may not give much thought to protecting your child's security as well. However, in today's increasingly computerized world, it's likely there is enough electronically-stored information about your child to allow a hacker to steal his or her identity. Since it's unlikely that your child will run a credit report or take out a loan in the near future, this theft could go for years before being detected.
Read on to learn more about some of the actions that may inadvertently leave your child's Social Security Number (SSN) and other identifying information vulnerable online, as well as what you can do to protect your child's identity until they reach adulthood.
What actions could leave your child's online identity vulnerable?
In some cases, there is little you can do to prevent your child's SSN from being breached; if a hacker takes aim at the SSN database maintained by the federal government, there's not much you can do to prevent such an attack. You may also have no control over the security of information kept by the hospital in which your child was born.
However, there are some more common (and innocuous) ways that a parent can make their child vulnerable to identity theft, all of which are easily preventable. Because many services require individuals to confirm their identity through data like their birth date, place of birth, and parents' maiden names, making this information easily accessible through social media sites or a personal blog can provide a potential identity thief with a buffet of valuable information without requiring them to expend any investigative effort. You may want to delete certain content you've placed online, and in the future you'll want to be much more circumspect about what you reveal about your child to others.
What can you do to protect your child from identity theft?
One of the easiest ways to determine whether your child has been victimized by an identity thief is to run a copy of his or her credit report. Ideally, the reporting bureau will likely return the search on your child with a statement of "no records found." However, if another person has used your child's SSN to take out loans or run up credit card debt, you'll quickly have access to information about the lenders and balances.
Even if your child's identity appears to be safe for now, it's still important to enforce security measures. It can often be a good idea to impose a credit "freeze"—this prevents anyone from being able to qualify for credit using your child's SSN until the freeze is manually lifted. This freeze has no impact on credit score or other factors that a lender might take into account when deciding to extend credit, so keeping it on your child's account until he or she becomes an adult can provide security at no cost. You should be able to request a freeze on your child's credit by contacting each of the three credit reporting bureaus directly.
You'll also want to be discerning with regard to who is permitted access to your child's information. Although use of one's SSN as an identifier in online databases is being phased out due to the risk of a security breach, a number of different entities may seek your child's SSN—from doctor's offices to college savings account providers. Before handing over an SSN or filling it out on a form, you'll want to ask a few questions about the business's need for this number and how they're keeping the provided data secure. If you're not satisfied with their responses, you may want to refuse to provide your child's SSN or use an alternative form of identification instead.
For more information, simply contact resources like Silent Security 1.