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With its range of educational sites and informative encyclopedias, the Internet can be a useful learning tool for kids of all ages. But it can also pose a serious risk: identity theft.
Identity theft is a crime that occurs when another person uses a Social Security number, name, or other personal identifying information belonging to someone else to commit a fraud. Identity theft happens to a significant number of children each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 8 percent of all identity theft complaints in the U.S. in 2011 were related to victims age 19 and younger. Being unaware of sneaky “phishing” emails and other online schemes, kids may inadvertently give away their personal information.
If your children use the Internet, follow these steps to keep them safe from identity thieves:
Block and track. Many Internet service providers offer ways to block certain websites from being accessed by kids. Software is also available to filter out questionable sites and track your kids’ Internet activities. Private chat rooms, in particular, should be blocked because of the ease with which information can be exchanged. (Chat rooms are also favorite hangouts for adults who seek to sexually victimize children.) Programs can also automatically limit the amount of time your child can stay on the computer.
Be nosy. Keep your computer in a common area, such as the living room, so that you can monitor your child’s Internet use. It’s also a good idea to have access to your child’s email account so that you can see if he or she has responded to phishing messages or other attempts at identity theft.
Teach your kids. Make sure your children know that they should never reveal personal information, such as their real name, address, or phone number, over the Internet. If they access websites where a username is required, instruct them to use a screen name that doesn’t reveal their real name or location.
Check their credit report. If you suspect your child’s personal information may have been compromised, you can write to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask if there are any credit reports in your child’s name. If no activity has occurred, the bureaus will tell you that no report exists. If a credit history does pop up, you can request that the credit agencies remove the fraudulently opened accounts from appearing on your child’s credit report. You can also place a fraud alert on the credit report to notify potential creditors.
Encourage responsible online behavior. Sometimes kids end up on questionable websites out of boredom. Show them the good side of the Internet age-appropriate games, informative sites, and other valuable resources. Many children’s book publishers, television networks, and toy manufacturers maintain sites with a vast array of safe activities for kids.