In recognition of National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day on September 1st, the Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) urges parents to take preventative actions to safeguard their children’s identities. Child Identity Theft is a growing problem. According to recent data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft for those under 19 years old grew 60% in three years.
“Child Identity Theft is a disturbing trend as children are 35 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than adults,” said Secretary of State Robert J Rodriguez, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection. “The widespread adoption of technology products has introduced new challenges to parenthood. Parents must now also learn the behaviors that put children more at risk, how to protect them, and what to do when children become targeted.”
Today’s children have been raised in a digital world and unlike past generations, their exposure to these technologies starts very young and makes them vulnerable to the dangers that lurk in technology’s shadows. The scale of the issue keeps growing under the increasing influence of digital technology, excessive screen time, social media, remote learning, and digital purchases in our lives. Products used by children are not nearly as privacy protected as they should be and contribute to the growing problem of Child Identity Theft. According to the FTC, Child Identity Theft occurs when someone uses a child's personal information to wrongfully get services or benefits, or to commit fraud.
The Impact of Child ID Theft:
Child ID fraud is expensive and detrimental. According to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research, fixing child identity theft takes longer to resolve than fraud against adults and costs the average U.S. family $372 out-of-pocket on top of any fraudulent charges. In one year, fraud losses linked to child identity theft totaled $918 million. The crime of child identity theft may go on longer than other types of identity theft, because young children are less likely to use credit or take steps to help protect their identities. Someone whose identity is stolen as a child can feel the effects for years resulting in financial losses and missed opportunities. As a young adult, they may encounter problems securing a student loan, a first credit card, apartment, or utilities. The best approach is to prevent it and look for warning signs to protect your child’s credentials.
Warning Signs to Look For:
- Pre-approved credit offers in your child’s name: this is a sign that someone else has used your child’s social security number to fraudulently obtain credit
- Any communication addressed to your child from the IRS
- Collection calls or past-due notices in your child’s name
- Marketing offers for products and services that arrive in your child’s name
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.
Empower children to practice online safety:
- Involve kids in routine privacy practices, such as creating safe passwords in a password manager or keeping up with online safety news.
- Remind kids that they can come to you when a questionable situation arises when they are online.
- Talk to kids about keep everything updated: make sure that all devices, software, and firmware are up to date.
What to do if your child is a victim of ID theft:
- If you notice fraudulent activities on your child’s credit report, don’t waste time. Immediately file an identity theft report with the FTC at identitytheft.gov and your local police department. The police are required to provide identity theft victims with one free copy of the incident report.
- Contact each credit reporting agency to report the theft and place a freeze on your child’s credit record to prevent further damage.
- Contact every business where your child’s information was misused, ask to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it is a result of identity theft.
- Contact the NYS Division of Consumer Protection’s Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Program, which serves to help victims by walking through the steps necessary to recover from the damages of identity theft.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For more consumer protection tips, follow the Division on social media at Twitter: @NYSConsumer and Facebook: www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.