As fathers, we can do a lot to protect our children from the ravages of identity theft. A few simple precautions and efforts to catch identity theft early can make a big difference in avoiding the negative consequences of identity theft for your children.
Don't share social security numbers unless absolutely necessary. Your child's social security number is the single most important piece of data that should be safeguarded. Historically, social security numbers were used as the universal identifier. It was used by health insurance providers, physicians, school offices, and others to keep track of all their people. As concerns about identity theft have grown, the social security number is generally not requested as an identifier unless there are tax consequences. So anytime a form asks for your child's social security number, find out how it will be used, how it will be protected, and whether there are other alternatives to the social security number.
Ensure that information you share on the web is secure. Sometimes websites will ask for identifying information as passwords, like a birth date or a mother's maiden name. Make sure that your children never give private information over the web without your presence and permission. The website should be publicly available and secure using one of the prominent security systems. If you don't know or don't trust a site, don't share any personal identifying information.
Monitor your child's social networking pages. If you allow your child to social network on the web with sites like Facebook, MySpace, YourSphere, Club Penguin, or Webkinz, make sure that you are monitoring their pages. Besides just being safe online, sometimes children will naively share personal information that could lead to identity theft issues. Make sure that your kids give you their passwords so you can see everything they can see, but make sure that they don't give it to anyone else. Then periodically get online and check out their pages.
Secure postal mail. From a non-electronic standpoint, the most important protection against identity theft is shredding things sent to your home that could be used by others to steal identities. Get a good crosscut shredder and keep it handy. Credit card offers, bills, cancelled checks, bank statements and the like should be shredded when they are discarded. Also, make sure that when you put personal information in an envelope in the mail, only deposit it in a secured mailbox. Putting bill payments in your own home mailbox and putting up the flag is very last generation and unsafe. Many cases of identity theft started with a theft of outgoing mail from an unsecured mailbox. Drive it to the post office or put it in a postal service mail box.
Keep records at home locked up. Anytime you have someone in your house you don't trust is a time of risk for identity theft. Have a lockable safe or file cabinet in your home where you keep important personal identity records like birth certificates, passports and social security cards. Or secure a safe deposit box and keep them there. Leaving things out in the open where a house guest or a babysitter can find them is pretty risky.
Watch your kids' mail. If unsolicited credit card offers, social security benefits statements and the like are coming in the mail addressed to your child, you should be concerned and check to see if there is a credit file in your child's name at the credit bureaus.
Request a credit report on your children at least annually. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you review credit reports, if any, annually. The credit reporting companies do not keep credit reports for minors, so if there is one in your child's name, you know something is wrong. You can request a credit report free annually at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also request one by mail with a form provided by the FTC or call toll-free 877-322-8228.
Taking a few simple precautions can make a big difference in your efforts to prevent child identity theft from being a challenge you and your family have to face. Exercising caution, teaching your children to be savvy online and securing your and their personal data will pay huge dividends in the long run.