Privacy And Safety For Kids On-Line

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Children of all ages spend time on-line at home and at school. That can create problems not just for safety, but for protecting personal data as well. Larry Meiller finds out how to protect, and monitor, our child’s identity.

Featured in this Show

  • Children’s Personal Data Needs Extra Protection

    While many people are probably aware of the importance of safeguarding their Social Security number and other personal information from identity thieves, some might not think about securing their child’s information.

    Sandy Chalmers, the administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), said that children’s information can be stolen in a few ways. First, hard copy documents could be taken from a home. But, she said in other situations, it could be luck.

    “Criminals can make up a Social Security number that coincidentally happens to be assigned to your child,” she said.

    Either way, those numbers are much more valuable to thieves than an adult’s number.

    “A child usually lacks a previous credit history, which means that the Social Security number can be paired with any name or birth date. Also, the Social Security number can be exploited over a long period of time because parents don’t monitor children’s credit files for misuse,” she said, “because children don’t usually have credit histories.”

    Chalmers said that it can be even more complicated if the thief is a family member because often those crimes go unreported. Sometimes, she said, “a family is maxed out on their credit and desperate, and so a parent or guardian takes a Social Security number of a child and opens credit card accounts.”

    In general, the use of children’s Social Security numbers is more widespread than many might think. Chalmers said that according to the Federal Trade Commission, 2.5 percent of U.S. households with minor children suffer child ID theft.

    “And it is theft or misuse of the Social Security number that is the most common,” Chalmers said.

    She said it pays to be vigilant about a child’s personal information. DATCP officials have listed these signs that there might have been a breach in a child’s personal data:

    • Have an existing credit report under his/her name with one of the three credit report services (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). If the child has one, he or she may have been targeted already, since only an application for credit, a credit account, or a public record starts the compilation of a consumer credit file;
    • Being turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using a child’s Social Security number;
    • Getting a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return;
    • Getting collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive.

    Chalmer said that parents should protect a child’s data by keeping the hard copies locked up, and by shredding old documents before disposing of them. She recommends that parents be proactive with schools and any sports or social groups that the child attends and ask why they need the data, how they will protect it and how they will eventually dispose of it.

    If the worst happens and a parent realizes that a child’s data has been used, they should make a report with local law enforcement so that there is a clear record of it. Once they have filed that report, parents can contact the three credit report services and request a freeze on the child’s credit report so no more inquiries can be made. Parents should also contact the vendors that made the credit requests, like credit card or mortgage companies and inform them of the fraud.

    While financial consequences can be serious, there is also a risk of a child’s information being used by the perpetrator of a crime during an arrest. That situation is another reason to be sure that there is a criminal report filed as soon as someone is aware of the breach.

    There is a bill pending on the state Legislature that would provide parents with an additional tool to keep their children’s information safe.

    Michelle Reinen, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that the bill would allow a parent to have a credit report created for a child and then frozen until the child turns 16, which would prevent much of the fraudulent use of children’s credit status. Information on the bill is available on the state Assembly’s website.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Sandy Chalmers Guest
  • Michelle Reinen Guest