For identity thieves, Christmas comes about three months earlier than it does for the rest of us.
September—that whirlwind season of back-to-school registration, dorm move-ins, and sports sign-ups—ushers in a sleigh-full of identity theft opportunities just waiting to be unwrapped. And it’s not just invincible first-time-away-from-home college freshmen who are at risk. Parents can expose kids to fraud without realizing it.
Before you start filling out those forms from schools, daycare centers, sports programs, activity clubs, doctors’ offices, and libraries, ask how the information will be used, stored, and disposed of and who has access to it.
You may be surprised to find their “required” information isn’t so necessary after all.
Preschoolers. Does the school really need your child’s Social Security number to let him dive into the finger paint?
Will a month and year do for a birth date? How about just the pediatrician’s phone number instead of your medical insurance group and ID numbers?
And don’t underestimate the power of selective forgetfulness—“Gee, I don’t have that information with me.” Chances are, you won’t be asked for it later.
Lil’ jocks and jockettes. You’re sitting on the bleachers at your child’s sports practice and a clipboard of signup information is making its way through the stands. Do you know the parents who will see your information as it’s passed along? And who will use the information once it’s collected?
Many organizations perform meticulous background checks on their staff and volunteers. Others don’t. You can’t control where that sheet of paper will end up once it reaches the end of the bleachers. If in doubt, write “Information to come” and ask after practice.
New school enrollees. Many kids need booster vaccinations for kindergarten and middle school. That may mean a trip to a new healthcare provider. Some doctor’s offices still ask for patients’ Social Security numbers even though they track them with some other ID number. Unless it’s needed to bill insurance (and it probably isn’t), skip it.
College students. Students ages 18 to 24 face the highest risk of identity theft. They’re naïve, distracted, and often living in communal settings where others can access their belongings. Before they head back to campus, equip your college students with the right tools and habits:
• Cross-cut shredder. Use it for all those preapproved credit offers. Dumpster-diving is epidemic on campus because thieves know most kids just throw them away unopened.
• Document safe. Lock up important papers like student loan and enrollment documents so they won’t be left lying around where anyone could nose through them.
• Reconcile bank statements. It’s an early tip-off to identity fraud, yet only about one-third of college students balance their checkbooks.
• Avoid sharing computers. Even if your children can trust their roommates, the same might not be true for the roommate’s friends. Encourage your children to use strong alphanumeric passwords with combinations of special characters and capitalization and to update their security software.
• Avoid open boxes for outgoing mail. Use secure U.S. Postal Service drop boxes, instead.
• Don’t store identifying names or login information on cell phones. If your phone is lost, contact your provider immediately.
Betty Chan-Bauza, Vice President of Product Management, Identity Theft 911 Betty has spent two decades with startup and Fortune 500 companies in the electronic payments, telecommunications and fraud and security industries. In the past, she has worked for Accenture, Iridium and Visa, and she was most recently a vice president at LifeLock, an identity theft services company that experienced exponential growth during her tenure.
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