As kids hit the middle of summer vacation, it’s likely they can count on some glorious stretches of downtime filled with posting on social media, playing online games and downloading new apps. Unfortunately, identity thieves are counting on these activities, too.
Child identity theft is on the rise, with criminals using children’s names and Social Security numbers to open credit cards and financial accounts. We’ve previously shared some tips to help keep your children safe. But as summer vacation brings more online activity, here are a few additional suggestions to ensure child identity theft doesn’t become part of the season:
- Watch the junk mail. Identity thieves often use information obtained online for a range of impersonation tactics, including use of medical services and applying for jobs. The more often your child’s name gets used, the more likely you’ll begin to see junk mail that includes credit card offers and insurance statements. Ask your children to bring you any mail addressed to them so you can spot potential child identity theft
- Be careful about oversharing. We often write about social media safety, and that’s because it’s such an important component of identity theft protection. Even if you’ve talked to your kids about social media before, it’s worth reminding them to be aware of what they post online. Specifically, warn them about particularly sensitive information like home address, birthdate and passwords. Even sharing a friend’s name and school location can be safety risks.
A Growing Threat for College Students
Tweens and teens aren’t the only young people getting targeted for identity theft. Increasingly, college students are at high risk as well. Since my own kids are both in college, this trend feels especially personal to me. And now that they’re home for the summer, I’m making it a point to talk to them about easy ways to prevent identity theft.
Some experts estimate that when it comes to identity theft, college students are five times more likely to be victims than the general public. There are many factors for this higher threat level, including a tendency to underestimate the danger and unfamiliarity with credit reports. Here are two preventative measures that can help:
- Secure personal papers. College students tend to live in shared living situations, such as dorms and multi-roommate apartments. Parties and study sessions can increase the traffic through these living spaces, and some identity thieves take advantage of the hustle and bustle by stealing checkbooks, bank statements and credit card slips. With that information, a thief can not only draw money from accounts or make fraudulent charges, but also submit address changes so the victim doesn’t receive statements that would show the missing funds. When your college student heads back to campus this fall, you may want to consider a shredder as a back-to-school gift.
- Update security software. School computer labs are being replaced by anywhere computing, thanks to ubiquitous and free Wi-Fi. But identity thieves see coffee shops, libraries, bookstores and lounge areas as ideal spots for gathering information. Students who don’t have adequate encryption or haven’t updated their security settings are especially vulnerable to hacking attempts. Make sure your student’s laptop — and your own as well — has strong, updated security and anti-malware software installed. Plus, remind your student not to check bank balances or log into credit card accounts while on a public Wi-Fi connection.
In general, when dealing with identity theft, college students and younger children may not be thinking about ways to protect themselves. But by encouraging them to adopt good security habits now, they could be helping to prevent identity theft in the future.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Runar Pedersen Holkestad.