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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

BBB Tip of the Week: Keeping your child safe from identity theft

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

When we talk about scams, people usually think of a sweet, older lady being swindled out of her retirement money. Or a grandpa asked to wire money to save a grandchild from arrest in a foreign country. But that’s really a small percentage of scam scenarios. In fact, there’s an entire demographic you might never guess is at serious risk – even more so than adults.

Whether kindergarten-age or freshmen in college, children and teens are at greater risk for identity theft, a problem that can haunt them for years and is only getting worse. According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, 10% of children had someone else using their Social Security number, and children were targeted 51 times more frequently than adults. With spotless credit reports, children are easy, lucrative and often unnoticed targets.

How it happens

Every time you fill out a form with your child’s personal information, it could fall into the wrong hands. These forms are everywhere. You fill them out at school, the doctor’s office and for such activities as sports, summer camp and after-school programs. Like the rest of us, a child’s identity is also vulnerable to a data breach, which are becoming more common. Sadly, a child’s identity also can be stolen and misused by family members and friends.

The damage from a child’s identity being stolen is twofold. First, it can go unnoticed for many years. Second, the identity theft may not be discovered until a child leaves the nest and really needs good credit – applying for their first credit card, a student loan or renting their own apartment. Correcting even one error on a credit report takes time. Discovering you’re a victim of identity theft, especially for a teen, can feel scary and be emotionally draining. And if the identity theft happened years ago, it is typically difficult to follow the paper trail. The damage to a child’s credit may be huge and tough to mitigate.

Keep your child safe from identity theft this semester and all year long. Your Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific offers the following tips to keep your child safe as they head back to school:

Don’t allow them to carry around their Social Security card. Leave it at home and locked in a safe place.

If a business or school asks for their Social Security number, ask questions. Why do they need it and where and how is this information being stored? Who has access to it? How long is it being stored and how will it be disposed of?

Educate your child on being safe if they are active in the online world. Keep detailed personal information off social media profiles.

Use strong passwords and shred documents with personal information. Check your child’s credit report for incorrect information, especially when they turn 16.

Even if you do everything in your power to safeguard your child’s personal information, identity theft can still happen. Watch out for these red flags: calls from collection agencies; bills sent to your home in your child’s name; your child receives a warrant, ticket or notice about owed taxes; your child is denied a loan, apartment or credit card because of bad credit; or your child is unable to obtain a driver’s license or denied a renewal.

What to do if you’ve been affected

If your child has been a victim of identity theft, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to fix the problem. The Federal Trade Commission says to call each credit reporting company and contact any business where your child’s information was misused. is a one-stop shop to report the problem and learn steps to solving it. Additionally, report identity theft and any other fraud or scams to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.