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Child identity theft: teach your child to protect themselves

Most parents know that they need to teach their children to be safe online, particularly when using social media. But what are you telling your kids about the dangers of identity theft?

We tend to think of identity theft as an adult problem. But children’s data can be just as useful to fraudsters, who can use it to set up accounts and take advantage of children’s clean credit records. If kids are naïve or careless with their online activities or paper records, their identities can easily find their way into the wrong hands.

In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission has found that children make up the fastest-growing segment of identity theft victims. Fortunately, the Data Protection Act and forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation give us a little more protection in the UK – but it’s still important to take care.

The problem with child identity theft is that it’s so easy to miss. Unless you check, you may not be aware that your child’s identity has been stolen. Meanwhile, a criminal is using their identity over and over again, possibly trashing your child’s credit score in the process and storing up problems for them when they come to choose financial products. Sometimes, it can even be family members with serious money problems who take advantage of a child’s clean credit history when they have nowhere else to turn.

Danger signs that a child’s identity may have been stolen include bills arriving for things they never ordered, emails from organisations they’ve never heard of or letters about benefits or credit applications.

In the UK, National Insurance numbers are issued when a child reaches 16. They can be used to open credit accounts or to commit fraud using a fake identity made up of details from several different people (known as ‘synthetic identity theft’). This can affect your child’s credit reports and credit score, making it harder for them to obtain credit later in life.

As a parent, you want your child to know their own address so they can get home in an emergency. Plus they obviously know their own full name and date of birth. But all those details could be used by fraudsters, so it’s important that your child understands that they shouldn’t share them with everyone – particularly not with strangers on social media.

Teenagers have a tendency to share passwords for social-media accounts with each other, which obviously makes their information far less secure. Tell them not to share their passwords with anyone, not even best friends or trusted adults. Make sure privacy settings aren’t set up to reveal personal details such as address or location.

Once kids have their own phones, they’re walking around with sensitive data right in their pocket, so make sure they set a security code to protect the device. (They’ll probably want to do this anyway, to stop you snooping around.)

Children and young adults also need to know about common internet scams. The most common is phishing, where an email or fake website asks you to enter confidential information that is then used by fraudsters. Some phishing scams can look very convincing – but a real bank or ecommerce site will never ask for personal or security details to be entered via email. Teach your children to delete anything they think is suspicious without clicking on the link. They should also learn to check URLs to make sure they’re genuine, and to look for the ‘https:’ before a web address that indicates a secure connection.

Paper records can be important too. Don’t let your kids leave documents with personal data just lying around the house, or throw them away with the normal rubbish or recycling. Give them a filing box or cabinet they can use to safeguard their own documents and get into good habits early. If there are documents they don’t need, make sure they’re securely shredded with a reliable domestic shredding service.

Finally, remember that identity thieves can recover details from old computer equipment or hard drives, even if you believe it’s been deleted. To make sure this can’t happen, use a hard drive disposal service to put the data beyond the reach of thieves for ever.

Image of young girl at digital tablet while sitting with her father.