Tips for protecting your child's identity:
• Don't carry your child's Social Security card around with you.
• Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy documents with your child's full name and other identifying details, including date of birth.
• Teach your children the importance of protecting their personal information on social media. "Children should never post their full name, address, date of birth or other details on social media sites," according to Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus.
• Make sure your kids use passwords for their smartphones and tablets. Also, teach them the importance of changing passwords frequently and never sharing passwords with others.
• If you're notified by letter that your child's personal information has been compromised, first confirm that the letter is legitimate. If so, take advantage of any free identity protection services offered and contact the three credit bureaus.
• If you have several children and one is a victim of identity theft, closely monitor the personal information of your other children. "Criminals are opportunistic, thus likely to target multiple children in the same household," according to a Javelin study.
As you prepare to send your child back to school, your to-do list will include immunizations to protect against illness. Don't forget to also immunize them against identity theft.
Unfortunately, the mountain of paperwork you have to fill out for such things as after-school programs and sports team physicals leaves your children prime targets for identity theft.
According to a 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research, 2.5 percent of U.S. households with children younger than 18 experienced child identity theft. In reality, the number is higher because many young victims may not realize their identity has been stolen until they become adults.
"Parents may also be responsible for some underreporting of this issue because a family member they are trying to protect, or they themselves, committed the crime," Javelin said.
It's beyond amazing to me that a parent or another family member would commit such a crime that has lifelong consequences for a child.
"In the past two years, we've seen the issue of child identity theft garner media and consumer attention, but there are many misunderstandings about this crime and more work needs to be done to educate consumers," said Steve Schwartz, president of Partner Services at Intersections, which provides consumer and corporate identity risk management services.
The No. 1 thing that identity thieves are after is a child's Social Security number, the primary component of crimes that utilize a synthetic ID, the Javelin report said.
Criminals create a synthetic ID by combining a child's Social Security number with a different date of birth to fabricate an identity that can be used to commit fraud.
"Synthetic identities are very difficult to detect," the study said.
Guarding your child's Social Security number is critical to protecting his or her identity.
"When someone asks for a date of birth or a Social Security number in connection with a child -- whether it's preschool or kindergarten -- you really need to ask them, 'what do you need it for and what are you going to do with it and who else is going to see it? How do I know that it's protected?'" said Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911, which provides identity management and identity theft recovery services for businesses.
"The thing parents have to remember is that this is an asset. Failure to properly guard it exposes your child to what could be over a decade of credit abuse that they're not even aware of until they get old enough to actually apply for something. Then, they're suddenly unpleasantly surprised."
Children shouldn't start their adult lives the innocent victims of a crime that could prevent them from establishing a firm financial foundation. Guard their identities like you do their lives.