Identity theft can be a jolt at any age, but it can be even more devastating for young people who discover their good name and credit history were destroyed while they were still children.
When children head back to school, parents and students exchange a number of personal documents with school administrators, from medical records to school registration papers and after-school program forms. When sharing this information, it's important to take certain measures to help protect student data.
Fraudsters frequently target children for identity theft. Since children usually have a clean slate of credit and parents rarely check their credit reports, child identity theft can go on for years before being detected.
A child’s Social Security number can be used by an identity thief to open new accounts and rack up debt. The unsuspecting child who may not learn he is a victim until years later when he uses his stolen Social Security number to apply for a first credit card or rent an apartment for the first time.
Taking proactive steps can help protect your child from identity theft. Consider taking these actions as your kids head back to school:
1. Only share Social Security numbers when absolutely necessary
If you're asked to provide your child's Social Security number, ask why it's needed and what policies are in place to ensure that it’s protected. If you notice any red flags, such as an unorganized office desk or files being stored where anyone can access them, ask where your forms will be kept and who will be authorized to review them. You can also inquire about how sensitive documents are discarded when they're no longer needed.
2. Be selective about other personal information
If your child's personal information, such as birthdate, home address, and medical information, is requested, don't be afraid to write down on the forms, "information to come later," if you're uncomfortable sharing it. Then, you can follow up with a school administrator to find out why this information is needed.
When it comes to student directory data, you can find some comfort in knowing that because of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools are required to notify parents and guardians about their school-directory policy. Parents and guardians should be informed about any third parties that the information is sold to, and allow you to opt out from the release of such information.
3. Use a secure network connection and anti-virus software on your computer
More schools are going paperless and are enlisting the help of an online parent portal to provide student information and remain up to date on school policies, schedules, events and even coursework and grades. When accessing your children's online school resources, be sure your own computer is secure and that fraudsters won't have access to this information. If you're accessing the portal on a public computer or on someone else's computer, also be sure to always log out once you're finished.
Editor's note: This content was lightly edited and updated on Dec. 18, 2017.