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Protect kids from fraud, identity theft

Nonprofit credit counseling agency shares five tips for safeguarding children's sensitive information

Parents go to great lengths to shield their children from life’s bumps and bruises, but even the best bicycle helmets and baby gates can’t ward off a hazard that has surfaced in recent years. Identity theft is a threat many moms and dads don’t know how to protect against.

“Identity theft is at an all-time high, and criminals are targeting children more aggressively than ever,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “Their credit history is clean, and most parents don’t even think to check their kids’ credit reports, so it’s easy for criminals to do serious damage over a long period of time.”

Sullivan offers five tips for parents to safeguard their kids from identity theft:

-- Protect kids’ Social Security numbers. Parents should store kids’ cards in a safe and hidden place, and think twice before giving out their child’s number. Health care providers may need this information, but is it necessary for Little League or a library card, or are there other options for identification?

-- Pay attention to their online activity. Kids surfing the web or checking email or social accounts may unwittingly click on links or download content from unknown sources, putting sensitive information at risk. Parents can teach their kids appropriate online conduct and utilize an array of tools that help protect them online.

-- Protect financial accounts. Many parents open savings accounts for their children, but they must be careful to keep financial statements private, ensure accounts can’t be accessed without their approval, and opt out of any marketing to avoid credit card offers in their children’s names. To opt out of credit card offers for five years, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

-- Understand warning signs. Parents who receive credit card offers in their kid’s name should be wary, as this may mean their identity has been compromised.

Other signs include denial of a bank account or driver’s license, or collection calls or bills addressed to a child.

-- Check your child’s credit. Parents who believe their child is at risk for identity theft should request a credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If a child’s identity has been stolen, parents should file a police report immediately, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) and place a fraud alert on the child’s file with all three credit reporting companies.


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