2011-06-30 / Family

The Birds, The Bees And The Internet

By Edward Johnson

Safeguarding your child is the number-one responsibility of any parent. Doing so requires vigilance and there are many things your kids need to know. In this day and age, it is not easy. The complexity of protecting your child goes well beyond scraped knees or a first crush. The Internet with all its advantages also comes with a dark side. If you think the Internet is relatively safe and harmless, think again for predators and thieves abound.

Take for instance identity theft. Hundreds of online businesses are finding inactive Social Security numbers online – most of which are assigned to children under the age of 18 who have not started using them yet – and selling them under different names to help people establish fake credit. The scheme may lead to significant debts for children that might be almost impossible to pay off. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning parents to be on the lookout for the signs that point to their child’s identity being compromised or stolen.

For adults, last year alone, 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft, resulting in the loss of $37 billion, according to a 2011 report from Javelin Strategy and Research. While this number is extraordinary high, NBC Today reports that it becomes harder to define how many children are actually affected by identity theft because of the fact that most cases go undiscovered for years. However, an identity theft monitoring company, Debix, found an alarming 4,000 cases of tainted identities, out of only 40,000 children.

It’s terrifying to think that your child’s identity could be comprised for the sole reason that they have a clean record. It is extremely important that parents take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their child’s precious and helpless identity.

The BBB urges parents to follow these important steps to secure their child’s identity:

Be aware of how to obtain your child’s credit report. Getting access to your child’s records is actually a different process than obtaining your own. Your child’s report cannot be obtained using the congressionally mandated free credit report Web site (http://AnnualCreditReport.com) when under the age of 13 and even sometimes for children ages 14 to 18. For parents with children under the age of 13, the easiest way to obtain your child’s records is through Trans Union. According to NBC Today, if Trans Union says there is no report, odds are good that your child is in the clear. But if there is a report – or you have a specific reason to believe your child is a victim – you’ll want to follow up with the nation’s other two major credit bureaus – Experian and Equifax – and get a report from them, too.

Recognize the signs of trouble. Watch out for red flags that indicate there might be a problem, such as your son or daughter receiving pre-approved credit card offers or calls from collection agencies.

Know what to do if you suspect that your child has fallen victim. According to the FTC, every parent should check their child’s credit report on their 16th birthday. It’s not good to check it too often since numerous inquiries can hurt a credit score, but checking at age 16 then leaves sufficient time to fix errors and activity before their child goes off to college and tries to obtain financial aid. If suspicious activity arises, parents must contact all three credit bureaus and request a report immediately. From there, depending on your state’s credit freeze rule, placing a credit freeze should be considered.

Have “the talk” with your kids. It’s a fact, get used to it, your child is growing up in a connected world. Texting, facebook and browsing the internet are not just a means of communicating and finding information, it is their world. Knowing how to act and what sort of information they should not share is as important as locking the front door at night. Help them to choose their friends in real life and online, wisely.

Edward Johnson is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania region.

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