When we talk about scams, people usually think of a sweet, older lady being swindled out of her retirement money. Or a grandpa asked to wire money to save a grandchild from arrest in a foreign country. But thats really a small percentage of scam scenarios. In fact, theres an entire demographic you might never guess is at serious risk; even more so than adults.
Whether kindergarten-aged or freshmen in college, children and teens are at greater risk for identity theft, a problem that can haunt them for years and is only getting worse. According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, 10% of children had someone else using their Social Security number, and children were targeted 51 times more frequently than adults. With spotless credit reports, children are easy, lucrative and often unnoticed targets.
So how does it happen?
Every time you fill out a form with your childs personal information, it could fall into the wrong hands. These forms are everywhere. You fill them out at school, the doctors office, and at activities like sports, summer camp, and after-school programs. Like the rest of us, a childs identity is also vulnerable to a data breach, which are becoming more and more common. Sadly, a childs identity can also be stolen and misused by family members and friends.
The damage from a childs identity being stolen is two-fold. First, it can go unnoticed for many years. Second, the identity theft may not be discovered until a child leaves the nest and really needs good credit: applying for their first credit card, a student loan, or renting their own apartment. Correcting even one error on a credit report takes time. Discovering youre a victim of identity theft, especially for a teen, can feel scary and be emotionally draining. And if the identity theft happened years ago, it is typically difficult to follow the paper trail. The damage to a childs credit may be huge and tough to mitigate.
Keep your child safe from identity theft this semester and all year long. Your Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific offers the following tips to keep your child safe as they head back to school:
Dont allow them to carry around their social security card. Leave it at home and locked in a safe place.
If a business or school asks for their SSN, ask questions. Why do they need it and where and how is this information being stored? Who has access to it? How long is it being stored and how will it be disposed?
Educate your child on being safe if they are active in the online world. Keep detailed personal information off social media profiles.
Use strong passwords, and shred documents with personal information. Check your childs credit report for incorrect information, especially when they turn 16.
Warning signs: even if you do everything in your power to safeguard your childs personal information, identity theft can still happen. Watch out for these red flags: calls from collection agencies; bills sent to your home in your childs name; your child receives a warrant, ticket, or notice about owed taxes; your child is denied a loan, apartment, or credit card because of bad credit; or your child is unable to obtain a drivers license or denied a renewal.
What to do if youve been affected: if your child has been a victim of identity theft, dont panic. There are steps you can take to fix the problem. The FTC says to call each credit reporting company and contact any business where your childs information was misused. IdentityTheft.gov/child is a one-stop shop to report the problem and learn steps to solving it. Additionally, report identity theft, and any other fraud or scams, to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.
For more information on scams of all sorts go to bbb.org or, if you have been a victim, help protect others and share your story on bbb.org/scamtracker.
BBB is here to help you so if you have any questions or information about scams you have seen, please let us know and wed be happy to help! Jason can be reached at [email protected] or 208-493-2431. For more information on businesses and complaints, find the contact information for your closest office at https://www.bbb.org/local-bbb/bbb-northwest-pacific.
About BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has helped people find businesses, brands, and charities they can trust. In 2017, people turned to BBB more than 160 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at www.bbb.org.