In the United States, one out of every 50 children experienced identity fraud in the past year, according to new research from Javelin.
Why are kids such common fraud targets, and how does their information wind up in the wrong hands?
Read on to learn why kids may be particularly vulnerable to identity theft — plus steps parents can take to better protect their families.
Why do identity thieves target children?
Children are attractive targets for identity theft because they tend to have clean credit. What’s more, kids don’t typically check their credit scores, so the fraud can go undetected for years.
Many victims of this fraud type won’t discover the problem until they apply for their first line of credit — such as a student loan or a car loan — and get rejected due to fraudulent activity on their credit profile.
Our Identity Specialists are specially trained to help families navigate childhood identity theft, and they’ve seen these difficult scenarios play out firsthand.
“Imagine an 18-year-old discovering they owe $25,000 to a collection company for a car they never bought,” says Brian Stuart, Allstate Identity Protection Director of Customer Care. “That’s a shocking way to start adulthood.”
How do identity thieves get childrens’ information?
Kids and teens are logging on more than ever — and screen time has been on the rise during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children between the ages of eight and 18 now spend an average of seven and a half hours per day in front of a screen using entertainment media.
This means that more and more of kids’ information is being gathered, used, and stored online — which can up the risk of identity theft.
According to Javelin, one in 45 American kids had their identities exposed in a data breach over the last year. Even data collected by trusted institutions and schools can wind up exposed. Public schools, for example, are increasingly targeted by ransomware attacks.
Parents are right to be concerned, as personal information stolen from children can be used to open bank accounts and credit cards, obtain drivers’ licenses, apply for jobs, and purchase homes or vehicles. Scammers may either use a child’s full identity or create a synthetic identity by blending real data with made-up details.
Fortunately, if you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member and you have a family plan, you already have access to tools that can help you stay a step ahead.
Use this checklist to make sure you’re getting the most out of your account — plus, learn five more steps you can take to help kids stay safe from fraud.
1. Use an identity protection service.
According to Javelin, only 6% of children were enrolled in identity theft protection when their data was leaked.
If you’ve already added your child to your Allstate Identity Protection account, you’re on the right track.
For an additional layer of protection, take a few minutes to activate features on your child’s behalf. From there, we’ll let you know if we detect suspicious activity, so you can take quick action to minimize the risk of identity theft.
If fraud does happen to your family, we’ve still got you covered. Our U.S.-based Identity Specialists are available to provide assistance.
2. Place a security freeze on your child’s credit file.
By placing a security freeze on your child’s credit, you can make it harder for someone else to open a line of credit in their name.
Each of the three credit bureaus has a different process for this, but in general, parents or guardians must mail a written request along with copies of identifying documents directly to each bureau to request a freeze on a minor’s behalf.
You can find more specific instructions for how to do this with each bureau by following the links below:
3. Be cautious about sharing personally identifiable information (PII).
Summer camps, doctor’s visits, extracurriculars — when you sign up your child for activities like these, you may be asked to reveal their Social Security number and other identifying data.
Forms can be outdated and in some cases, the sensitive information that’s requested is not actually required.
Don’t be afraid to question why certain details are needed, or to leave fields blank when you’re being asked to reveal more of your child’s information than seems necessary.
4. Keep an eye on your child online.
Children with unrestricted and unmonitored internet access are three times as likely to fall prey to identity fraud compared to those whose online activity is monitored, according to Javelin.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that sites or services geared toward users under age 13 must send parents a plain-language consent notification before data is collected, so keep an eye out for those emails.
The browser or computer systems you use every day often offer parental controls. Consider adjusting your security settings for additional peace of mind.
5. Limit what you share about your child online.
It’s common for expectant parents to share baby bump pics and ultrasound photos — which means some kids have an internet presence before they’re even born.
It can be fun to celebrate our kids online, but disclosing any personally identifiable information can expose children to future risks.
A study by Barclays Bank predicts that by 2030, two-thirds of identity fraud cases among today’s children will have resulted from parents sharing about their kids online.
Before you post something, consider if the information you’re sharing could make your child vulnerable to fraud later on. For example, a celebratory birthday post or a front-porch snapshot with your house address visible in the background may unintentionally reveal PII.
6. Teach your children how to protect themselves.
We already teach our children about “stranger danger.” We need to have the same conversations with kids about talking with strangers online.
This means instilling a healthy skepticism about whether people online are who they say they are. A good rule of thumb? Only chat with someone on social media if you know them in real life.
It’s also important to make sure kids understand the hallmarks of phishing — such as blurry images, frequent typos, or urgent requests to “Act now!”. The more kids know what scammers are up to, the better prepared they’ll be to protect themselves.
Parenting in the digital age has its challenges — but we’re here to help. With this checklist, you can take action to reduce the risk of fraud in your family. Plus, if you’re a member and identity theft does occur, our certified specialists are only a phone call away.