Thanks to data breach after data breach, online security and identity theft are at the forefront of most adults’ minds. Most of us work pretty hard to keep ourselves safe online.
We log out of public computers after using them. We create different usernames. And we change our passwords regularly. We even resist the urge to scrawl them down on sticky notes next to our keyboards.
But considering how hard we work to protect our own privacy online, our whole family might not be as safe. In fact, when it comes to identity theft, most of us haven’t given a second thought to other family members.
Specifically, our children and our aging parents are susceptible to identity theft. Here’s everything you need to know about identity theft and the steps you can take to keep your household safer today.
What is Identity Theft Exactly?
Identity theft happens when someone steals your identity. Thanks to the Internet, this has become increasingly common. Last year alone there were 1,579 data breaches.
If your identity is stolen through a data breach, phishing, malware, or another method, identity thieves may use it to commit identity fraud.
Typically, when criminals steal your identity, they intend to use it fraudulently for some financial gain. Criminals can take over your bank account, open credit cards in your name, and even claim your tax refunds once they have your identity.
Pinpointing and remedying identity theft is a time consuming and costly process. Thankfully, it’s also gotten a lot of attention lately, compelling us to take more action to keep our information safe.
Why Are Children Easy Identity Theft Targets?
Children don’t use credit. That fact is precisely what makes them so appealing to identity thieves.
Credit isn’t useful until you’re trying to do things like buy a car, apply for a job, rent an apartment, and so on. Those milestones don’t happen until you’re a young adult at the earliest. That means that if a child’s identity is stolen, it could go undetected for years.
Children’s identities are especially susceptible at tax time. While most people are familiar with fraudulent tax returns from an adult perspective, a lesser known issue is what is happening with children.
Individuals will post the identities–name, date of birth, Social Security number–of babies and children online. Purchasers can buy the identity, effectively allowing themselves to add a dependent to their tax return.
The problem is growing, too. Last year, over a million children were the victim of identity theft. Most shockingly, two-thirds of the victims were less than 8 years old.
Who Else is an Easy Target?
In addition to worrying about children, there is another group to consider when it comes to identity theft: aging parents.
The National Council on Aging points out seniors are ideal targets for identity theft because they often have significant balances in their bank accounts. To tap this money, scammers are targeting seniors via phone and email.
If you have a phone, there’s a good chance you’ve been on the receiving end of some sort of scam phone call. Scammers are telephoning as everyone from Apple to the IRS.
While many of us have developed a healthy dose of skepticism for those kinds of calls, statistics show the elderly are more vulnerable. Phishing via email is another way the elderly can become easy targets. They did not grow up as digital natives, so navigating the Internet is unfamiliar, and they can be overly trusting.
Tips to Protect Loved Ones from Identity Theft
Now that you have a better sense of what identity theft is and why children and aging parents make such easy targets, it’s understandable if you feel panicky. Identity theft is a serious issue.
The good news is you can take these steps below to add more protection and keep your family safer starting today.
Keep Paperwork Safe
Not carrying Social Security cards is a no-brainer. But you also need to make every effort to keep other sensitive documents safe or shredded. You might even consider keeping your mailbox locked.
As a caregiver for children, aging parents, or both, it is essential you make sure they are diligent with their paperwork as well.
Share Less Information
The less information you put out there, the less identity thieves have to work with. Parents and guardians need to approach this from a variety of angles.
When you’re filling out paperwork, only complete the required fields. If a doctor’s office or school needs you to provide sensitive information like Social Security numbers, ask to review their data safety protocols.
But it isn’t just outside companies that can compromise someone’s identity. It’s often the result of clicks we make as parents.
Of course, you can’t wait to show off your bundle of joy to the world, but by posting a photo the day your child is born from your hospital room, you’re actually giving away a ton of sensitive information.
Think about it. When you’re opening a new account or even answering a security question, what are two things you need to know? Date of birth and city of birth. Both of which you just plastered all over social media.
It doesn’t take much effort to also gather the child’s first, middle, and last name. Many mothers also post from accounts revealing their maiden names.
Social media is ripe to mine for sensitive information.
Freeze Their Credit
Another step you might take to protect your children or someone else’s identity (including your own!) is to request a credit freeze.
Essentially, a credit freeze prevents a pull on a person’s credit report. That, in turn, prevents thieves from opening a new line of credit or another account fraudulently.
For a credit freeze to take full effect, you need to follow the specific protocols outlined by each of the three credit bureaus. Make sure to dot your Is and cross your Ts on this one; the paperwork and documentation requirements are all different for Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
While some people might have been hesitant to freeze their credit in the past, things are changing. In fact, one of the most significant barriers historically was the cost. Now, though, it’s completely free to freeze your credit.
After you freeze your child’s credit, the Federal Trade Commission suggests lifting the freeze around their 16th birthday to give them plenty of time to be able to apply for jobs or car loans.
Final Thoughts on Keeping Your Family Safe from Identity Theft
The world is changing thanks to the Internet. More convenience and more knowledge are at our fingertips than ever before. Unfortunately, for all the good the Internet has done, it has also led to a spike in identity theft.
But you don’t have to live off-the-grid to keep your family’s identities safe. Instead, practicing these habits and considering a credit freeze can go a long way to prevent identity theft.
Article written by Penny