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Back-to-School Preparation Should Include Protecting Against Identity Theft

It is back-to-school time, and appropriately September 1st is National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day. Did you know that even a child can become a victim of identity theft? According to recent data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft for those under 19 years old grew 60% in three years. The Erie County Office of Consumer Protection wants to make parents aware of this and remind them that protecting their child’s personal and private information is the best way to prevent and guard them against identity theft.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides Tips For Parents/Guardians to Safeguard Children’s Identities:

Consider freezing your child’s credit. Security freezes are free but must be placed separately with each of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). The process varies between credit bureaus, but it’s not difficult and takes far less time and effort to freeze your child’s credit than to remediate a fraud case after the fact.

Make ID theft prevention a habit. Securely store all your child’s foundational identity documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, insurance cards) away from people in your circle. Any paper or electronic record that includes your child’s Social Security number should be stored securely, whether that means in password-protected, encrypted cloud storage or a locked file cabinet or safe.

Set reasonable boundaries around technology and monitor online activities. For many children, the line between the physical and virtual worlds is already blurry. Children with unrestricted and unmonitored internet access are at greater risk of experiencing the exposure of their personal information. Children’s information is collected in many places, including social media platforms, smart devices, video games and mobile applications are also gathering their information. Given the rise of data breaches, children’s identities are increasingly at risk of being exposed on the dark web and online forums where identities are illegally bought and sold.

  • Make sure that kids are registered as under 13 on the sites and applications they use. This limits the data that can be collected on them and the content they see.
  • Take hardware and software seriously. Buy products only from reputable companies, installing software updates immediately when available and restricting data collection to the strictest settings a service allows. 
  • Secure Your Child’s Cell Phone: If you've trusted your child with a smartphone, make sure their device is as secure as possible by adjusting settings for location, screen time, passcodes, and more.
  • Online Games: ensure kids play in disguise with a cool safe game name and don’t share personal information on gaming account profiles.
  • Internet Connected Toys: Parents must be present when toys are being set-up. Some toys come equipped with microphones, voice recognition, GPS enabled wearables and artificial intelligence that allow software interaction between the child and the toy. Many can put a child’s privacy at risk. For tips on privacy precautions with technology toys, please see information from this December 2020 Consumer Alert.
  • Social Media: Make sure your social media account is set to ‘private’. Most social media is public by default.

While it is important to help your children protect themselves against identity theft, it is also imperative to take the time to educate them about online safety. The use of technology has not only increased in schools, but it plays a much larger role in kid’s daily routines and is a prominent reason why this type of identity theft has increased. There are many opportunities for thieves to attempt to steal information as children connect with friends online, play games on portable, internet-connected devices, and start using cell phones.

In addition to providing advice on How To Protect Your Child From Identity Theft, the Federal Trade Commission has a feature page of articles, alerts and videos which highlights information on protecting kids online and tips for how to discuss online safety with your children.

If you have questions or your child has become a victim of identity theft, please do not hesitate to contact our office for assistance. The Erie County Office of Consumer Protection can be reached by phone at 716-858-1987 or via email to Consumer Protection complaints can also be submitted through our website.

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