Identity Theft

The ABCs of Back-to-School Identity Theft Protection

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Parents, add this to your back-to-school shopping list: identity theft protection tips and supplies.

It’s that hectic time of year again when you’re repeatedly asked to share your child’s personal information for school registration, sports sign-up forms and dorm move-ins.

But you may be exposing your child to fraud when you’re filling out those forms. Every year, nearly 500,000 children under the age of 18 fall victim to identity theft. Identity thieves often target kids because they have pristine credit profiles and dormant Social Security numbers (SSNs).

Before providing sensitive data to schools, daycare centers, sports programs, activity clubs, doctors’ offices and libraries, ask how the information will be used, stored, disposed and accessed. You may be surprised to find that “required” information isn’t so necessary after all.

Here are some tips to protect your school-age children.

  • Daycare and preschool. Some organizations may ask for a Social Security number and birth date before allowing your child to participate. Always ask how necessary that information really is. They may be satisfied with a month and year for a birth date or a pediatrician’s phone number instead of a medical ID number. Don’t underestimate the power of selective forgetfulness—“Gee, I don’t have that information with me.” Chances are, you won’t be asked for it later.
  • Sports. You’re sitting on the bleachers at your child’s sports practice and a clipboard of signup information is making its way through the stands. Do you know the parents who will see your information as it’s passed along? And who will use the information once it’s collected? Many organizations perform meticulous background checks on their staff and volunteers. Others don’t. You can’t control where that sheet of paper will end up once it reaches the end of the bleachers. If in doubt, write “Information to come” and ask after practice.
  • New school enrollment. Many kids need booster vaccinations for kindergarten and middle school. That may mean a trip to a new healthcare provider. Some doctor’s offices still ask for patients’ Social Security numbers even though they track them with some other ID number. Unless it’s needed to bill insurance, skip it.
  • College. Students ages 18 to 24 face the highest risk of identity theft. They often live in dorms or share apartments where others can access their belongings. Before they head back to campus, equip your college students with the right tools and habits:
  • Buy a cross-cut shredder. Shred preapproved credit offers. Dumpster-diving is an epidemic on campuses because thieves know most students throw these offers away unopened.
  • Use a safe. Lock up important papers like student loan and enrollment documents so they won’t be left lying around where anyone could see them.
  • Review bank statements. It’s an early tip-off to identity fraud, yet only about one-third of college students balance their checkbooks.
  • Protect your computer. Even if you think you can trust your roommate, the same might not be true for the roommate’s friends or classmates. Use strong alphanumeric passwords with combinations of special characters and capitalization and update security software.
  • Use secure mail boxes for outgoing mail. Use secure U.S. Postal Service drop boxes, instead.
  • Don’t store login information on cell phones. If your phone is lost, contact your provider immediately.

Image: iStockphoto

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