The FTC reports that only 5 percent of all ID-theft victims are children. Yet in a recent survey of more than 1,000 adults by ConsumerInfo.com (also known as Experian Consumer Direct), more than half of those polled consider it unlikely that their own children could fall victim to the crime. The survey also demonstrates that Americans entertain major misconceptions about how ID theft - especially that perpetrated against children - occurs.
"As soon as a child has a Social Security number, he or she is at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft," says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian.
Parents need to be aware of how identity theft occurs and what tools are available to help them protect their children from it, Sweet says. Concerns within the credit reporting industry over child identity theft prompted Experian Consumer Direct to recently launch a credit-monitoring product designed to alert parents and guardians of potential signs of identity theft against their minor children.
The best way to protect your child's Social Security number is to limit who has it, Sweet says. "Instead of revealing your child's Social Security number, offer a business your own or an alternate identification number, such as your driver's license number. But be aware that companies can refuse to do business with you if you decline to give them your Social Security number. In that case, you may want to consider working with another business."
Despite the popular belief that the Internet is a major source of identity theft (85 percent of the Experian survey respondents assumed that the Internet is a likely source of child identity theft), most identity theft occurs in more mundane ways, such as mail stolen from a mailbox. To protect themselves and their children from identity thieves, parents should:
-Shred mail and other documents that contain personal, identifying information.
-Never give personal information to a telephone solicitor.
-Immediately cancel lost or stolen credit cards and bank cards.
-Beware of "phishing" e-mails - unsolicited e-mails that ask for financial or other personal information.
-Limit the amount of personal information you share on social networking Web sites.
-Don't leave mail in the mailbox overnight.
-When using an ATM, cover the keys when entering your PIN number.
-Monitor your bank and credit card statements and your credit reports.
-Consider enrolling in an identity-theft monitoring product, such as Experian Consumer Direct's Family Secure (www.familysecure.com). Membership costs less than $20 per month and helps parents and guardians determine if anyone has attempted to or successfully opened a credit account using their child's identity. If a match is found, Experian Consumer Direct alerts the parents or guardians and helps them take corrective action if identity theft has occurred. The product also guarantees to reimburse up to $2 million in certain identity theft expenses if a parent, guardian or child becomes a victim of identity theft while a member of Family Secure.