Imagine finding out that your 7-year-old daughter owes thousands of dollars in taxes for an internship she has never held, or that your baby owns a condo in Hawaii. It may sound crazy, but a child’s Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan, or rent a place to live. A child’s identity is pristine and often remains unchecked for more than a decade, which makes it uniquely alluring to identify thieves. A few tips below are crucial to keeping your children’s presence safe online.
There are several signs that can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information. For example, you or your child might:
- Be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
- Get collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive
- Get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
Taking precautions and being proactive, especially when it comes to children’s information, is key to protecting them against identity theft. Here are five things you can do to keep your little ones safe:
- Be careful what you share: It’s typical for adults to mention a child’s name and birthdate in birth announcements and other posts on sites like Facebook and Instagram, which puts kids at risk of identity theft and digital kidnapping — when someone lifts images of another person’s kids and portrays them as their own. Understand how privacy settings work on social networking sites and only let your friends and family have access to your profiles, posts, photos and videos to help keep even your youngest safe.
- Make sure any accounts/websites that kids have access to have the correct privacy and security settings: When you or your kid gets a new device or signs up for a new website or app, establish your privacy preferences. Follow the directions during initial set-up, or go to the section marked “privacy” or “settings” and opt out of things such as location sharing and the ability for the app or website to post to social media sites on your behalf.
- Take advantage of your browser’s parental controls. The majority of Internet browsers (including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer) have an “internet options” folder where you can easily set up security safeguards and content filters for language, nudity, sex and violence. Another option is to skip the filters altogether and only allow your kids to use squeaky-clean browsers created just for kids.
- Teach kids to be on the lookout: Teach your kids good habits early on, such as thoroughly checking each purchase on a credit card statement if they have one, and regularly monitoring bank accounts for any activity they didn’t authorize. Let them know the importance of safeguarding their Social Security numbers, as well as ID numbers on driver’s licenses and medical insurance cards.
- Consider parental control software: Parental control software can give parents broader and more effective tools to manage their kids’ online behavior. Many programs allow you to monitor what websites your children visit and which apps they use. You can block specific sites or apps or enable blocking on websites that contain certain keywords or fall under a certain category. You can even specify when kids can use their devices and for how long.
On a more general note, talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones. Ask about any concerns they might have and be prepared to field any questions they may ask.