Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.
According to a recent Harris Poll, 48% of American adults believe that they will become identity theft victims in the next year. As startling as this figure is, a study by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab concluded that children are 51 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than adults, and yet many people are unaware of what a serious problem child identity theft poses.
In the last few years, children have become prime targets of identity thieves. A recently released study by Javelin Strategy & Research indicates that a million American children became victims of identity theft last year at a cost of $2.6 billion in total losses to the families. If a thief is able to get identifying information on a child, such as the child’s Social Security number, he can obtain credit in the child’s name. The identity thief never pays back the money accessed through the child’s credit, and the child is burdened with a bad credit report that can have numerous harmful effects: the victim may be turned down when he or she applies for credit, applies for a job, applies for a scholarship, or seeks to rent an apartment. Often the identity theft is not discovered until years after it first happens, which makes it more difficult to remedy.
How to Prevent Child Identity Theft
- Freeze your child’s credit. A credit freeze is a tremendous tool for fighting identity theft because it prevents an identity thief from establishing credit in your name. Unfortunately, the credit reporting agencies only allow credit freezes for minors in the 29 states that have laws permitting parents to put credit freezes on the accounts of their children.
If you live in one of the states that have a child identity theft law and have minor children, you should contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — in order to freeze your child’s credit. In order to take advantage of these laws you need to set up a credit report for your child and immediately freeze the account. And while you are at it, you should also freeze your own credit as your best precaution against identity theft.
- Guard your child’s Social Security number. Parents should, as much as possible, try to limit the places that have their child’s Social Security number. Your child’s information is only as secure as the places with the weakest security. Your child’s pediatrician or dentist may request your child’s Social Security number, but they have no legal need for it. Refrain from providing it.
It is an unfortunate fact that must child identity theft is traced back to family members or others who have access to the home. Keep your child’s personal information including his or her Social Security card safe from prying eyes.
- Become familiar with FERPA. The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) helps you protect the privacy of your child’s school records and enables you to opt out of information sharing by the school with third parties. Many school forms ask for personal information about your child. This information, if not properly secured and managed, can result in child identity theft. Parents should ask their child’s school about who has access to the personal information of its students and what security precautions are being taken by the school to protect that information.
Schools are required to provide parents annually with a FERPA notice informing them of their privacy rights in regard to their child’s educational records. Parents should carefully read this notice and be aware of their rights to consent to the disclosure of records and their ability to correct errors in the school records.
Many schools have student directories that may contain your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photograph. FERPA requires that parents must be informed of the school’s policy regarding its student directory and inform the parents of their right to opt out of the release of that information to any third parties.
- Check your child’s credit records. Identity Force, Lifelock and other companies provide child identity theft protection services. AllClear ID provides a free service called ChildScan that not only searches credit records tied to your child’s Social Security number, but also checks employment records, criminal records, and medical records to recognize at an early stage if your child has become a victim of identity theft.
What to Do If You Find Evidence of Child Identity Theft
If, despite your best efforts, your child has become a victim of identity theft (which most commonly comes to you attention when your child receives notices of outstanding bills), you should do the following:
- File a police report.
- Contact each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and ask them to remove all false information and inquiries fraudulently associated with your child’s name or Social Security number.
- Send each of the three agencies a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration [PDF] that explains that your child is a minor.
- If you haven’t done so already, put a credit freeze on your child’s accounts.
- Contact any businesses where the child’s information was misused, explain that your child was a victim of identity theft, and ask them to correct their records.
Child-rearing advice: The supply is infinite, but the demand is always greater. Americans, it seems, are ever hungry for news on how children are poorly raised, and why parents are doing it all wrong. One of the most repeated criticisms is that Americans overindulge their children.
Here it is in 1912, as written for the Post by Maude Radford Warren.
Our children are spoiled, bad-mannered and ungrateful… in the American home the child rules from babyhood until it marries or otherwise leaves its home… the parents [provide food and money] to the child, asking for nothing but the chance to sacrifice themselves for their young.
Ms. Warren came to this conclusion by comparing the children of the new century to the offspring of Puritans and colonial pioneers.
[The child] learned his manners and his morals by implication and example, though perhaps his religion was belted into him more consciously. There was no colonial parent who sighed, “My child is such a problem!” and no child who said, “My parents are so out-of-date!” There were no filial problems—there rarely are when the problem of getting the food supply is still in the nature of a hard adventure.
In our passion for our young—our desire to do right by them—we have raised parenthood to a profession. We are so afraid of not understanding fully that we try to be scientific as well as loving… Some one discovered that the child had rights, and then we began to see that what we were giving him from love we should be giving him from a sense of justice. Our consciences began to work overtime.
The trouble begins with young people who have a naïve faith that all will turn out well for people in love.
They meet; love and Nature throw a net about them, and the world seems to them an alluring and a secure place. They stand up before the minister and the guests and are made one. Among the guests are those who are widowed and divorced and childless, sick and distressed, disgraced and old. The couple see them; but the things that life and chance have wrought for these guests do not touch the consciousness of the happy two. Life is going to be different for them.
And for a time, life is.
[With the first baby, the young father has] parental responsibility without a full realization of what chance and circumstance may do to him.
He will give them a better start than he had. All he has had to give up they shall not give up—not while he has a finger left to work for them.
Being an American, [he] values freedom more than any other quality. When he finds his own quota of it smaller than he had counted on, he at once desires it for his children. The simplest way he knows of measuring freedom is in terms of money. He coins his lifeblood cheerfully.
Perhaps American parents were unrealistic about their children, she reflected, because they’d been unrealistic about marriage.
Parents go on bravely planning and sacrificing for children without dreaming of expecting gratitude—at least, we tell ourselves, not while the children are little.
Our reward is to make them happy; our theory that, if we cannot make up our minds to live for our children, we ought not to have any. We wish to make it up to them because the world cannot be just as ideal as it seemed when the honeymoon was shimmering.
American couples had become so focused on being successful parents—providing their children every desirable object and opportunity—that they couldn’t see what sort of child they were producing.
What the American parent enjoys most of all—unless he is the wise exception—is lavishing on his children things he never had and always wanted when he was little. Nothing delights their father more than to see them at play, surrounded and all but satiated with toys.
Of course, [the father] idolizes these children and overrates their importance. He may know they are rude and tiresome, only ordinarily intelligent and not at all diligent; but he cannot feel this.
Ms. Warren works on the same parental concerns that journalists still use today: parents’ uncertainty and resentment, the worry that they do too much, the suspicion that more discipline and limitations for the child would make everything better.
There has been practically no one to tell us that, if we give the child his rights and develop his individuality, the rights of the parent may have to be small. Perhaps a faint piping voice is raised now and again on behalf of the parent, but it is soon smothered.
And there are constantly increasing numbers of teachers and writers to tell us how to maintain the rights of the child. Sometimes, when the doctrine is translated into action, its results are of the sort that would have made the early settlers gasp and reach for a rod, with which to put the fear of the Lord into a child.
Mother wishes to be a competent parent. … She goes to classes to find out what her children should read and how to discipline them, avoiding that dreadful danger of waiting until they do wrong and then colliding with them. Plenty of people tell her what she should do, but no one warns her that in respecting the individuality of the child she may lose her own.
Like many articles on the continuing crisis in parenting, “The Decay Of The American Parent” (Sep 14, 1912) starts with sensation and ends in moderation.
Fortunately we are not all decayed parents. Plenty of us have struck the balance between self-abnegation and folly between indulgence and severity. Many of us have adapted the pedagogy of the schools to our own individual needs, throwing away what is stupid or valueless and digging into our own imaginative resources to make the naughty conduct of our children react on their own heads.
And even when we are handling our children badly—even when we have decayed as parents—from the ashes of us spring our young, who, as parents, will profit by our particular mistakes.
Ms. Warren would probably recognize the endless stream of expert advice for parents, though she might be surprised that the extremes range from ‘Tiger Moms’ to Attachment Mothering.
She probably wouldn’t recognize how much the world of the child has changed in 100 years. For the most part, they get the food, clothing, and shelter they need, but Security and Hope are less abundant today than five generations ago.
They cope with endlessly revised school curricula, drugs, violence, rapid and continual changes in technology, and a formidable challenge in escaping the pull of childhood and dependency when 85% of college graduates move back in with their parents for lack of ready work.
It wasn’t easy then. It’s not easy now.