An enormous amount has been charged to your credit cards, your checking account is empty and loans you don’t recognize begin to surface on your credit report. What happened? You’ve fallen prey to identity theft – an increasingly common but technically inventive crime.
Identity theft occurs when a criminal assumes the identity of someone else for personal gain.
So who is at risk for identity theft?
The simplest answer? Anyone with a social security number, but especially children.
According to studies, children are the fastest growing segment for identity theft in America. Children are often targeted because they have untouched credit records, making it easier for criminals to open new accounts in their names. And since parents rarely monitor their child’s credit reports or financial activity, the crime often goes undetected for long periods, potentially exposing the child to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
More young children know how to play computer games than ride a bike. Incredibly, two-to-five year-olds know how to operate a computer mouse better than tie their own shoelaces.
How are children more vulnerable to identity theft?
It is also believed that American children spend, on average, 10 hours on computers. They might also divulge sensitive information while traversing the internet’s expansive space. Thieves often coax children into providing personal information, including the following:
- Social security number
- Hospital records
- School records
- Library card numbers
- Immunization records
Criminals that steal a child’s identity have their hands on a blank check that can be used for years.
How Identity theft damages credit rating?
Personal identity theft can impact the credit rating in many ways such as:
- If an identity thief uses your existing credit to make purchases, you might not be able to pay their inflated credit card bills, resulting in late payments that hurt a credit score. Sometimes identity thieves also redirect credit card bills so that you would not notice the fraudulent activity on the account. If you don’t receive a bill, you will not pay the bill on time, and this will cause your score to drop.
- Identity thieves open accounts in victims’ names. When bills in a child’s name go unpaid, the victim’s credit score falls.
- Identity thieves can even empty bank accounts, leaving a victim with no means of paying rent, loans, car installments, credit card and other bills.
To avoid allowing thieves to abuse your family’s personal information, check everyone’s credit reports once every year, especially those of family members who spend large chunks of time on the internet. Checking them every three or six months would be even better. To get a copy of your credit report, it is sufficient to contact Equifax, Experian or TransUnion directly, but instead, you should contact the Annual Credit Report Request Service created by these three credit reporting bureaus.
Ways to help protect your family
Before you start canceling everyone’s social media accounts, remember that there are ways to protect your family from such thieves. If you follow the practices mentioned below, you’ll enjoy social media without ever exposing yourself to personal identity thieves:
- Never respond to unsolicited and unknown emails/phone calls.
- Use different passwords for different accounts and never share them, especially for online bank accounts
- In any case, never reveal your social security or driver’s license numbers
- Try different usernames and passwords for each profile
- Change your passwords regularly
- Consider the minimal use of personal information on social media profiles that are prone to phishing attacks
- Only respond to people in your network that you know well or have met, as opposed to “friends of friends”
- Keep a keen eye on where and what you post, as same can be used against you.
Your family, especially kids need to be educated on the right way to use social media to protect their privacy and security. Educate them on the consequences of revealing personal information on social networks.