If you aren’t teaching your kids about privacy online, their identity could be stolen.

4 minute read

By now, you know that identity theft is a big deal. Last year, millions of people’s information was exposed when companies like Facebook, Google, and Marriott were hacked. But what you won’t see in the news are the ones most susceptible to identity theft — your kids.

An Experian study found that nearly half of 15 to 17-year-olds have had their identities stolen.[1] Babies as young as a few months old have been victims. The average age is 12.

More than 1 million children were the victims of identity fraud last year, causing $2.6 billion in losses. Victims discover the theft themselves, usually when they hit 18 and try to apply for credit. Sometimes they’ll get a bill or credit card in their name, which is another way they found out they were victims.

For 37 percent of respondents, they’ll never know who stole their identities. But one-third of victims know who took their information.

Child identity theft by parents

The study found that 73 percent of thieves were parents or other family members. Even for the cases that were simply a mix-up, like a bill addressed to the wrong person, parents didn’t do anything about the mistake. Experian says 62 percent of cases were reported to local law enforcement, which means 38 percent didn’t take any action.

When it comes to what’s being stolen, it’s the most personal information, including:

  • Social Security Number: 82 percent
  • Name: 78 percent
  • Date of birth: 68 percent
  • Street address: 47 percent

Email addresses, medical IDs, and passport information were also compromised.

Why are children an identity theft target?

What are some words that come to mind when you think of a child? Fresh, pure, virgin, the list goes on.

Those words apply to their credit as well. Because your kid probably has no credit history, attaining their Social Security Number means hackers have a fresh slate to take out loans, credit, and mortgages in his or her name, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

It could be your fault

Even if you don’t steal your child’s identity, you could be risking their privacy online.

According to a study done by TRUSTe, a data privacy management company, lots of parents are worried about their kids’ privacy online – but they may not be handling it the right way.[2]

“While parents are concerned, they don’t always protect their children’s privacy online,” says Chris Bable, CEO of TRUSTe. “Companies need to work with parents and their children to ensure transparency and help protect children’s data.”

The big number: 58 percent of parents say they’re concerned about their child’s privacy online. Here’s what we learned from the study, and what you can do to minimize your child’s security risk when he or she goes online.

According to the study, a full 24 percent said they do not allow their child to use the Internet. Why?

  • 57 percent said they’re worried that their child will be exposed to inappropriate content.
  • 44 percent think their child will share personal information online
  • 43 percent think their child will share personal information online that they will later regret

But the irony is that while so many are concerned about kids sharing things they’ll regret, parents are sharing photos of their kids all over Facebook and Instagram.

Almost 70 percent of parents admitted they’d posted photos of their kids online. In addition, 1 in 5 parents said they helped their kids who were under 13 years old set up social media accounts.

How to talk to your kid about staying safe online

The best way to protect your kid from scary stuff online is by talking to them about it. TRUSTe says that 74 percent of parents think their child understands “a small amount or nothing at all about the issues surrounding privacy online.” If that’s you and your child, keep these tips in mind:

1. Start early. Your kid born today is a digital native, so don’t think it’s out of the question to broach the topic of internet safety with a kindergartner.

2. Initiate the conversation. Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don’t wait for them to start the conversation. Instead, find examples in your everyday life to talk to your child about Internet safety. This can be something as simple as seeing a billboard or ad about cyberbullying and taking the time to explain to your child what it means and what to do if they experience it.

3. Be honest and supportive. Without a foundation of trust and support, kids aren’t going to be forthcoming about what they experience on the Internet, whether it’s harassment or strangers who make them uncomfortable. Make sure you cultivate an environment of trust and let your kids know they’ll never get in trouble for admitting something serious.

4. Be patient. Especially with younger children, it can take a while for something to sink in. It’s best to broach the topic several successive times; if the information is repetitive and simple, they’ll absorb it better.

How to spot child identity theft

Experian says that if you’ve received a pre-approval credit card offer, you shouldn’t trash it. Especially if it’s addressed to your child. It might mean your child is a victim of identity theft.

Here are a few other indicators from the FTC:

  • A collection agency called you asking for payment on an account they opened
  • Getting turned down for government benefits because they’re already linked to another account with your child’s SSN
  • The IRS notified you that your kid didn’t pay income taxes
  • Getting collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive

For more statistics on identity theft and how to protect yourself, visit Debt.com’s Identity Theft Research page.

Cameren Boatner contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn is a full-time freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She’s president of Blossomers Media, Inc., a web development and online media consulting company. Along with her work on debt.com, she’s been a longtime freelancer for Money Talks News — a personal and consumer finance website — and South Florida Gay News — the largest weekly LGBT newspaper in the South. Zinn has written for a variety of other publications, including Huffington Post, The Week, Quartz, Fort Lauderdale Magazine, Indulge, and realtor.com.

Published by Debt.com, LLC