It’s no secret that identity thefts have seemingly reached near-epidemic proportions, with scammers indiscriminately targeting young and old alike.
But preying on kindergartners? It’s now gotten to that point.
Back-to-school season tends to bring out identity thieves — along with warnings to parents on how to keep their youngsters’ birth certificates, Social Security numbers and other personal identification information from falling into the wrong hands.
The Federal Trade Commission urges parents to ask questions and carefully review all the registration and health forms, permission slips, student directory listings and other paperwork their kids bring home from school or extracurricular activities. After all, many thefts are inside jobs.
How bad is it?
A 2011 study on child identity theft from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that someone else was using the Social Security number of more than 10 percent of the children surveyed.
That was an astounding 50 times higher than adult survey experiences. The study — among the most comprehensive regarding youngsters and identity theft — reported that children’s stolen personal information, especially Social Security numbers, was used to purchase homes and automobiles, open credit card accounts, land jobs and obtain driver’s licenses.
The largest fraud, amounting to $725,000, involved a 16-year-old victim. The youngest victim was 5 months old. In fact, more than 300 victims in the Carnegie Mellon study were under the age of 5. It can take years for victims to untangle the financial mess and clear their credit history.
The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of student education records and gives parents the right to opt out of sharing private information with schools and other families.
The FTC recommends self-policing in the educational environment, starting with the following:
• Determine who has access to your child’s personal information and ask if the records are kept in a secure location.
• Before you reveal any personal information about your child, find out how it will be used, whether it will be shared and with whom. In official forms from the school, look for terms like “personally identifiable, directory information and opt out,” the FTC said.
“It is important to be conscientious when we give our personal information (and) it is perfectly appropriate to question how that information is going to be used,” said Jana Castanon, a spokeswoman for Apprisen, a nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency.
• Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. Some directories include more than just your child’s name, address and telephone number. It might also list an email address and date of birth and include a photo.
Federal law requires schools to notify parents about the directory policy and gives families the right to opt out of the release of data to third parties.
• Stay on top of registration forms for after-school activities such as sports and music. These organizations may have websites where children are named and photographed. Again, make sure you understand how the information will be used or shared.
It pays to be aware and alert. And to keep a shredder handy.