Though the notion was probably only dreamt about in the past, I do not know if anyone could have predicted that, by the year 2016, we would be able to access bank accounts from our phones with the scan of a fingerprint, send money to others with the touch of a button or take pictures of checks to deposit into our bank accounts, right from our banking phone applications. Some are mesmerized by the capabilities and access technology has allowed us over the past few years, while some are, quite frankly, leery and largely distrustful of all that technology has put at our fingertips, especially when it comes to our financial affairs and accounts.
While we live in a world that now largely thrives and relies on technology, it is that advanced technology that makes us vulnerable to another’s ill-intended actions. This can sometimes land us, and those we love, in financial situations that can take years to recover from. Identity theft is increasingly becoming more problematic in the U.S. As technology becomes more sophisticated, hackers (those who use computers to gain access to unauthorized data) are finding more creative and better ways to steal our identities, and perhaps the most alarming realization regarding such theft is that it is not limited to adults.
Studies of more than 42,000 minors found that about 10 percent of children are victims of identity theft before they turn 18, and if you think about it, kids are the perfect targets for identity thieves. When children are born, they are given a social security number (SSN), and SSNs come with a blank credit file attached. It is not likely that your 3-year-old is checking their annual credit report, so, when children do become victims of identity theft, it often goes unnoticed by the parent, who might not know such occurrences happen, until it is too late.
As a parent, you might try to get government benefits for your daughter, only to find that someone else is drawing benefits based on her SSN, or your child may get turned down for student loans because of a terrible credit history. Frisco mom of two elementary-aged boys, Abby Cole, admits that she has thought about the ramifications of her kids’ identities being stolen. “I would be heartbroken and feel very nervous that something like this could happen to me and my children, with no signs of anything being wrong. They did not ask for that to happen to them, so I would definitely investigate and do everything possible to get it cleared up if I was able.”
The effects of identity theft are sometimes detrimental to one’s life and prove difficult for victims to bounce back. Spectrum Financial Group’s Randy Black, Certified Financial Planner® (CFP), admits that, for minor levels of identity theft, most financial institutions have protection in place to mitigate the financial damage of one or two fraudulent charges. He clarifies, “For more major cases, there could be a delay in getting funds reimbursed, so people need to have an emergency fund set aside to help cover bills and expenses until the identity theft is resolved. If it is a complex case, attorneys may need to get involved and, of course, they are not cheap. If someone is not able to recover their funds, it could influence how soon they can retire or how much they can help their kids with college. The damage to their credit score is something that could hang around for a while. They should be able to work to remove those items from their credit history, but what if they need to buy a home or car during the time of the identity theft?”
Never fear, parents! There are steps you can take to ensure your child’s identity is safe and sound, and that they have the opportunity to start their adult lives without the burden of dealing with a stolen identity.
Mr. Black recommends that parents protect the child’s social security card and number well to ensure it is not compromised. He advises, “I always tell my clients who have children to limit who they give the child’s social security number and date of birth to. It is best to keep the social security card locked in a safe place. Lock any scans with a password, if you scan the card and save it to your computer. Additionally, avoid emailing the child’s social security number or date of birth.”
In order to ensure that their children are protected, parents need to know and understand the many warning signs that can and will tell you if your child’s credit history has already been compromised. These signs include an influx of credit card and loan offers addressed to your child, your child being turned down for Medicaid or other government benefits because their SSN has already been used, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notice that your child did not pay income taxes or was claimed as a dependent on another tax return, collections calls or bills addressed to your child and denial of a bank account or driver’s license.
To ensure your child’s protection, parents can also check their credit report, which, unfortunately, is not necessarily as simple as checking your own. Parents can mail or fax in documentation proving that they are the child’s parent or guardian. Each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, has its own process for checking a minor’s credit report, so it is important to check the individual website of the bureaus to get more details. Keep in mind that it is possible your child may not have a credit report, which is a good thing! No credit file means that your child’s SSN and other information has not been used to get any credit. However, just because Experian, for instance, reports that your child has no credit file, it does not mean that he has no file with Equifax or TransUnion. Not all creditors report to all three bureaus, so many times, they will have different information. If you do suspect identity theft, check your child’s reports with each of the three bureaus.
Along with knowing the signs and checking up on your child’s credit, there are companies that specialize in working alongside you to protect your child’s identity. LifeLock® uses advanced technology to constantly monitor more than one trillion data points to help detect suspicious uses of your identity information to get loans, credit and services in your name, and with adult protection memberships, parents can get LifeLock Junior™, which also protects children under the age of 18. LifeLock sends alerts through the patented LifeLock Identity Alert system by text, phone or email. It offers black market surveillance (because identity thieves sell personal information on black market websites), credit file detection and identity restoration support.
Project Klear is another company committed to helping parents protect their children from identity thieves. Project Klear is committed to partnering with parents to ensure their child’s identity is safe by offering the most up-to-date technology that guarantees the protection of their children clients. Once parents sign their children up for protection through Project Klear, the company takes the child’s information, plugs it into their formula and their system creates your child’s 12 personal identifiers, which are then scanned through millions of data points each day to ensure all of your child’s identifiers are safe.
Though technology has made some aspects of our society quite scary, as parents, you can rest assured that you have the power to protect your children from those hackers and identity thieves to ensure they are able to live a life free of the turmoil identity theft can create. Ms. Cole knows the impact technology has made in regards to the possibility of identity theft. “In this day and age, you have to protect not only yourself, but also your kids, especially with the way social media has evolved and knowing how much information being easily accessed by those it does not belong to.”
While it is all genuinely scary to think about, knowing how to protect your children from the technological evil that remains a threat is the best thing you can do for yourself and your child.
For more information on LifeLock Junior, go to lifelock.com. To learn more about Project Klear, consider visiting projectklear.com.