Identity thieves love to steal children's identities. Nobody thinks to check their child's credit report because there's no reason to expect them to have one. Criminals can exploit the stolen identity undetected for years, until the child grows up to find his or her credit ruined.
How bad is the problem? The 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy & Research found that over one million children were victims of identity theft in 2017 alone, with cumulative losses of $2.67 billion.
Criminals find children's identities anywhere they're stored in quantities, such as schools – and some of your child's personal information may be handed out there, just for the asking. Thanks to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), public schools may release directory information on request.
Directory information varies by school district, but it may contain your child's name, address, phone number, birthday and birthplace, and email address. Combine this information with a stolen Social Security number, and a criminal has everything they need to open accounts and run up massive amounts of unpaid debt in your child's name.
Fortunately, FERPA also allows you to limit access to your child's information. You can opt out of directory information entirely or choose which information will be restricted and which is accessible.
Unfortunately, there's no uniform rule on how the opt-out is offered. A school district may include a form with a beginning-of-year information packet, they may bury the option on a website, or they may make the forms available at the office upon request. Your school may not even have a standard form at all.
If your school district has no opt-out form, you can use third-party forms like the one provided by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. The form directs the school to release only specific information and to limit the access of that information for specific purposes per your request.
Even with these limitations, FERPA allows release of some of your child's personal information without consent. Release situations include transfers to other school districts, parties connected to financial aid, and school officials with a "legitimate educational interest" in the information. Further information on FERPA and the rules on information access is available on the U.S. Department of Education's website.
FERPA offers protection with respect to schools, but you're mostly on your own to block other avenues for identity thieves. Take the same cautious approach with any place that retains your child's personal information, such as doctor's offices and hospitals, day care centers, and even libraries if your child has a library card.
Private entities like sports teams or clubs outside of school may ask for personal information in their applications. Protections are likely to be weak, so be very judicious when giving out your child's information. Only give out your child's data when absolutely necessary. When you must give out data, ask how the data is protected. Find out who has access to that data and when they can access it. Use all opt-outs that are available to you.
Of course, social media and online sites offer plenty of opportunities for your child's information to be stolen. All your efforts will be wasted if your child hands over the information online. Make sure your children understand the importance of protecting their information, and how their future can suffer if they don't. Growing up is hard enough without spending your early adulthood repairing identity theft damage.
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