Considering the historic levels of data breaches during the past few years, fraud and identity crimes are a threat to families everywhere. While adults may know that they need to take precautions to protect their personally identifiable information (PII), making sure your children understand the same safety steps is just as important.
What is child ID theft?
Children may seem immune to the risk of fraud and identity theft since they don’t hold any assets in their name, yet that’s exactly why identity criminals target them. The blank slate of your child’s identity means criminals can use it to open a new credit card, rent a place to live or apply for government assistance. The fact few parents monitor their children’s PII means criminals can misuse the stolen identity for years without being detected.
When it comes to protecting your family, there are precautions you and your children should become familiar with as they navigate today’s digital world. Different age groups have different concerns as their access to the internet and online independence grows.
Children under 10
While you are officially considered a digital native if you were born after 1980, today’s children are more tech savvy and spend more time online than any generation prior. It is not uncommon to see a 5-year-old playing games on their parent’s smartphone in a waiting room, and many have their own smart device. In fact, 81% of parents with a child 11 or younger has reported allowing them access to a smartphone or tablet.
With younger children especially, keeping a close eye on the content they are consuming and restricting their app access is the best precaution. Over 16% of parents with children aged 5-11 have reported not limiting or monitoring their child’s screentime. Any sort of access to a tablet or smartphone can increase your child’s risk to accessing unsafe websites. If your child is using your device to play games or watch a YouTube video, it would not be too difficult for them to mistakenly share your email or phone number, create an account or download unsafe apps by using the information that is automatically stored in your phone.
Many apps and social media platforms have child locks or screen time limits you can activate for when you do not have time to be looking over your child’s shoulder. Most children at this age will be unknowing when it comes to entering personal data or playing on apps they are not supposed to, so keeping a close eye on their activity is the best way to protect not only their data, but your own.
Tweens and teens
This age group can be when the risks get more complicated. Nearly 75% of children receive their first smartphone by age 12 and kids this age commonly have their own email addresses and phone numbers. Similarly, most popular social media platforms allow users to start their accounts at age 13 — and about 90% of U.S. households have children who are actively using social media.
In general, tweens and teens have more information online, all of which they need to learn how to protect.
A strong starting point for ensuring your child is navigating the web safely is to explain the importance of app permissions on their devices. When downloading a new app, there’s typically a set of permissions the user will have to grant before installation. The three big ones to watch for are camera, location and microphone. Unless these functions are needed for the app to work properly, you should advise your child to never grant these permissions.
Secondly, engage in open conversations with your teenager regarding the type of things they are sharing online. Help them understand that nothing on the internet is truly private, and oversharing on social media is not only dangerous but can make you more prone to theft or fraud. The pause-before-you-post rule is a great habit to practice, as this encourages your child to consider whether their fun social media post may include too much personal information that could easily fall into the wrong hands.
Cyberbullying is a serious online threat, and this age group is typically the prime target. Cyberbullying is defined as the harassment or threatening to another individual through online means, whether that be through text or social media. Nearly half of teens 13 to 17 reported experiencing a cyberbullying incident. Kids who have little restrictions while online will accept friend requests from people they do not know or share too much information on social media that could lead to a cyberbully or acts of extortion.
Some key tells your child might be a victim of cyberbullying include:
- Nervousness when texting
- Depression and anxiety
- Increased device use
- Avoidance from school, family, and social situations
- Abrupt deactivation of social media accounts
Preparing your children for their first taste of adulthood can be bittersweet. With the increase in remote learning and the use of technology in the classroom, there are specific cybersecurity tips you can discuss with your college students to keep their information safe:
- Upgrade passwords to passphrases. A secure passphrase will consist of at least 14 characters of scrambled upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. They can significantly increase the security of their accounts, or logins to school databases.
- Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). 2FA adds an extra layer of security to their accounts in case their login credentials are compromised. Students should enable 2FA wherever possible, especially on accounts that hold financial aid or scholarship details.
- Keep software up to date. College students rely on their laptops to take notes, complete homework or submit assignments. Ensuring their operating system, web browser and apps are running the most recent version can close security vulnerabilities that hackers exploit.
- Remind them to be cautious of public Wi-Fi networks. Most colleges and universities will have their own virtual private network (VPN), but if your student lives off-campus or likes to study at the local coffee shop, having their own VPN to encrypt their information will keep their data more secure. In general, it’s best to encourage your student to avoid accessing sensitive information when connected to unsecure public networks.
How to react
As much as you might help prepare your child, your child’s information can still be at risk from threats outside your control. If you suspect your child’s identity has been compromised, there are a few recommendations to consider:
- Request a copy of their credit report. If you’re not sure if your child has a credit report, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax). If your child is under 13 years old, you’ll need to request it by mail. If they are between 13 and 17 years old and have a credit report, you can request a copy at annualcreditreport.com. Then you can evaluate the report for any suspicious activity. If anyone has used your child's name to complete a credit application, place a protected consumer freeze on your child's account immediately. A protected consumer freeze prevents any entity from obtaining a minor’s (under the age of 16) credit report.
- Report the compromise to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC will work with you to mitigate the attack’s impact, and to help remove fraudulent accounts or transactions from your credit report. Visit identitytheft.gov or call 1-877-ID-THEFT for more information.
- Contact your financial institution. If someone has filed for loans or used credit using your child’s name, notify that financial institution so they freeze the accounts and are aware of the attack.
Inform without scaring
Talking openly about the dangers of the internet with your child can help them understand the actual risks online. The best approach is to discuss the realities of these threats frankly without resorting to scare tactics that they might dismiss as their parent being overly protective. The goal is to help them become savvy online citizens who can still have fun with their friends online while protecting themselves at the same time.