Teaching Children About Identity Theft and How to Protect Themselves

Children using the Internet has gone from being a novelty to a being a part of everyday family life. While the benefits of the Internet are numerous, the reality of identity theft is something which parents need to discuss – with each other and with their children.

Why Would A Child’s Identity be Stolen?

We usually think of adults as the only ID theft victims. After all, it’s usually an adult on the evening news talking about their stolen credit cards. Children, however, can have their identity stolen as well. Even worse, the theft may not be realized for an extended period of time.

Children’s personal information is like a gold mine for identity thieves. Their social security numbers can be used to open credit cards. Since an existing card is not stolen, no odd charges show up on a bill. Social security numbers can also be used to obtain passports, identification cards and other types of official documents.

Older children who may have debit or even credit cards in their own names are at an even higher risk.

Another unbelievably brazen ID thief‘s move is to befriend a child online – often posing as another kid – and ask the child to fish around in Mommy’s purse until she finds a shiny bank card. Be sure your children are visiting only approved, safe sites, and check in often to see if anything seems off about a new online friend.

Teaching Your Kids About Identity Protection

Thieves are getting sneakier and smarter all the time, and they have ways of obtaining personal information. A first step for thieves is to find someone to go after. Children online can be careless, often sharing low-risk personal information (a phone number, address or even hometown) with virtual strangers.

Thieves can collect these pieces of information – sometimes over a longer period of time – until they can piece together a child’s life and track down more sensitive information.

Teens shopping online can present an even bigger risk. Be sure that your children know the signs of a safe website and which ones present a security risk. In addition, remind them that no reputable store or online service will ever – ever! – ask for a social security number. This is a huge red flag, but one which many teens sadly don’t recognize.

Don’t Frighten – Enlighten!

When teaching smaller children about ID risks, it’s important to keep things non-frightening. The last thing we want to do is teach our children that the world is a scary place to be afraid of, and that includes the online world as well. Instead, choose words carefully and try to finish up conversations with something positive.

Older kids and teens aren’t likely to become frightened, but it’s still a good idea to be careful. Frame your discussion in a way that makes them feel empowered – not like victims-to-be. Knowledge truly is power, and equipping your kids with what they need to know will go a long way towards shaping them into capable, confident and safe adults.

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