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Identity Theft: Your Child at Risk

As if parents don't already have enough to worry about, we now need to protect our children against identity theft.

It turns out children are the perfect victims since the crime can go undetected for quite some time since parents don't typically keep an eye out for it, according to Intersections, a company that sells identity theft prevention services. Indeed, 5% of all ID theft complaints in 2008 were for kids under the age of one.

While a child's identity can be stolen at any time of year, the back-to-school season offers many rich opportunities for thieves to practice their trade. Why? As classes begin, parents are asked to fill out forms that request the sort of personal information fraudsters are looking for, including one's full name, birthday, address and social security number.

What can a dutiful parent do to guard against ID theft? Here are some tips for protecting your offspring:

1. Never Reveal Your Child's Social Security Number
Many schools ask for a social security number, especially when you enroll your child in kindergarten. This information, however, is rarely required. But if you do have to provide it, make sure the principal keeps all student files in a safe place.

2. Hide Your Child's Name
Anyone with a kid knows you need to label everything you send to school. But that doesn't mean you have to write your child's name in a spot that can be easily seen by strangers.

Be particularly careful with backpacks. They often come with identification tags that children love to fill out. Explain to your little one that she's better off excluding the family's address and keeping her name on the inside of the bag.

3. Teach Computer Safety
Kids often make it easy for criminals. Twenty seven percent of 9 to 17-year-olds maintain a public and personal blog, web page or other online space, according to Intersections. And one in five children report doing things on the Internet that their parents wouldn't approve of. Since we can't monitor our sons and daughters at all times, you need to explain that revealing any information can put them at risk for identity theft.

4. Monitor all Junk Mail
If you notice your child getting credit card solicitations and other junk mail, there's a good chance someone got a hold of his personal information. Now you need to check if his identity has been compromised. You can do this by calling the credit fraud department at all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and asking a representative to look into the matter, says Joyce Carcaise, a spokeswoman with Intersections. If there's been a breach, the bureaus can tell you what to do.
5. Don't Check
Ironically, the last thing you want to do is pull a credit report on your child. While they are a great tool for adults who are worried about their identity, requesting one for your kid could make him more vulnerable since it will trigger the creation of a credit file, warns Carcaise. And once that exists, it's actually easier for a criminal to open an account under your son or daughter's name, she says.

Has your child's identity been stolen? Tell me what happened.

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Credit Card Theft image by Don Hankins, courtesy of CC 2.0.
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