**Originally Published September 9, 2015. Updated September 5, 2019**
Back to school time is exciting, but can also be stressful for parents and kids alike. Now that you’ve survived the first week or two and have likely (almost) settled into a schedule, it’s a good time to check in with your child to ensure they know how to keep their identities safe while engaging in school and social activities.
Think it seems a little overboard to worry about your child’s identity? After all, they don’t have any credit cards and may not even use electronic devices yet, right?
According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab, kids under 18 are 51 times more likely to be victims of identity theft than their parents. Child identity theft is a real problem and as a parent, it’s up to you to try and protect your son or daughter. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things you can do to keep your kids safe from preschool all the way through college.
It can be hard to teach a child about identity theft, and at this age, it’s more about the parents being aware and vigilant. Many thieves are looking for social security numbers, so don’t be afraid to question anyone who asks for your child’s SSN as you enroll them in school. As you fill out paperwork for the preschool, enroll your child in new activities, or take them to the doctor, you may find multiple social security number requests — ask what the social security information will be used for and if it is completely necessary. You will likely find that many organizations and companies include the SSN request as a formality and that it is not actually mandatory.
Elementary school is a great time to begin teaching your child the basics of keeping their identities safe. Tell them it is very important that they do not share any of their personal information with strangers or people they don’t know very well, especially online. There will likely be a learning curve as they figure out who they can trust versus who they should not trust, but make sure they know they can always refer the individual to a parent.
As your child begins to use the Internet more in middle school and create online accounts, it is essential to teach them about creating secure and powerful passwords. Passwords are meant to keep thieves out of accounts, so explain that passwords must be more complicated than their birthday or their pet’s name. Help them brainstorm strong passwords using these criteria:
- Eight or more characters long
- Include letters, numbers, and symbols
- Don’t use any private information (name, birthday, hometown, phone number, etc.)
- Don’t use a word that is found in the dictionary
- Change your password every six months
It can be hard for kids to remember their login information, so make sure you are always aware of their current password combinations.
By high school, many kids have smartphones and may become active on social media websites like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. This is a prime time to remind them that the Internet is forever and anything they post online could be found again and used against them. Privacy settings need to be utilized and your son or daughter should not be exchanging any personal information online, especially with strangers or via a public post. Ensure they are also aware of private information that could be posted in photos without them even realizing it — for example, their house number in the background, or even a social security card sitting on their desk as they take a selfie.
If your child is heading off to college, they’re hopefully well-versed in online safety and privacy. However, they’re now entering a situation in which they can’t necessarily trust everyone that they are living with. They need to be aware that they will make friends in their college dorm, but there will also be people around that they don’t know well and who they may not be able to trust. An easy way to give your college student a sense of security is by buying them a small safe or lockbox. They can use this to store sensitive documents like bank statements or student loan information — anything with details they wouldn’t want to share with a stranger. Also remind them to have login passwords/PINs for their laptop, phone, and other electronics so no one can use them when they aren’t around.
Don’t forget, the “bad guys” never take a break, which means right around back to school time, you may also encounter certain scams. Not sure how to avoid scams? Generally, they come in the form of text messages or social media posts and tout giveaways, rewards, and freebies. If anything seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Overwhelmed by the prospect of protecting your child’s identity from preschool through college? Add ChildWatch to your IdentityForce adult membership and we will monitor your child’s identity 24/7, allowing you to worry less and enjoy time with your child more.
Image courtesy of Flickr user ThoseGuys119.