When you imagine identity theft today, it’s easy to picture a cybercriminal stealing a name, a Social Security number or credit card data from an online database. That hacker then sells the information to the highest bidder on the “darknet”, uses it to make purchases or even commits tax return fraud. In all of these scenarios, the person with the stolen identity is an adult with his or her own bank accounts to drain or taxes to fake. So why are hackers interested in stealing the identities of children, when youngsters don’t have assets to plunder?
What’s the value of a kid’s PII?
As it turns out, it doesn’t seem to matter if identity theft victims are old enough to open a bank account. The personally identifiable information they possess can still be used to receive illicit gains through methods such as credit card fraud with newly created accounts.
The fact that kids’ Social Security numbers haven’t yet been used for financial purposes makes them more valued by hackers rather than less. The danger of someone stealing your kids’ identity is real.
There is financial gain to be had for hackers who steal kids’ data, especially Social Security numbers. The AARP explained that not only are children targeted by identity thieves, but the rates of theft affecting young people are actually greater than those affecting parents and guardians. Kids under 18 are 35 to 51 percent more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults. The organization added that there is extreme credit value in Social Security numbers that have never been used for financial purposes. It’s relatively simple to add a false name, age or address to a Social Security number. After that happens, there is a window for thieves to open illicit credit cards or even sign up for government benefits.
What does child identity theft look like?
Once an identity has been stolen, it could be years before the crime is ever detected. When that child grows up, opens his or her own credit cards or tries to take out loans, the Social Security number may come back with a tarnished credit history.
Michigan State University educator Vivian Washington, who specializes in financial literacy, pointed out that if children start receiving IRS warnings or collection calls, it may not just be an administrative mistake. This could be an early sign that kids’ data has been used or is being used for illicit transactions.
There are three key questions to ask about identity theft that targets the young:
- How do hackers use the data they steal, and why do they value it so much?
- How are cybercriminals performing their crimes?
- What can you do as a parent to protect the personally identifiable information your kids possess?
Understanding just how important it is to defend kids’ data may even remind you to take better care of your own.
How do thieves find and steal kids’ data?
The current era of always-on internet communications is wonderfully convenient in many ways, but it also creates many avenues for identity theft. According to the AARP, kids’ personal details are stored in many different databases and with institutions that aren’t required to have Social Security numbers on file but still do. If hackers manage to secure information from medical offices, schools or extracurricular organizations, they may gain enough data to commit identity theft.
Furthermore, parents and kids themselves can inadvertently make identity theft easier for criminals when they post personal information on social media that make identification and data theft possible. From mass databases to one-off accounts, there are many repositories of personally identifiable data that include kids’ credentials, and thieves will be on the lookout for them.
The Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid recently made parents aware of threats against school districts around the country from hackers who claim they will release student databases unless they are paid ransom money. Furthermore, kids aren’t out of the woods when they leave home to enroll in college. Institutions of higher education are also frequently victimized by ID thieves.
How should parents stay aware and keep kids safe?
Defending kids’ data is a piecemeal process with some parts that parents, unfortunately, don’t have access to. Schools are key breach targets. In addition, companies sometimes take data from educational databases. There is a network of laws working to prevent businesses from using and selling that information, but issues with the system have occurred in the recent past and indicate that the regulations may be incomplete or inadequate.
That said, there are ways to keep information safer. Knowledge is a good weapon against ID theft targeting kids. When parents know what the threats are, they can look for early warning signs and keep valuable data secret whenever possible. Furthermore, with kids using the internet more on their own than ever before, they need to know from a young age that it’s dangerous to post personally identifiable details.
Teaching kids about identity theft includes going beyond the obvious warning not to share data. Parents should also tell their kids to be mindful of sites that are prime vectors for malware. Free games, music downloads and celebrity gossip links are among the favorite subjects of scammers and thieves setting up fake websites.
It’s up to parents
While kids are never too young to be targeted for identity theft, it’s their parents and guardians who will have to protect their children from the scourge of identity theft. Trying to open a line of credit and finding out your identity has been stolen a decade ago can be a prelude to months of difficulty, and parents should aim to prevent their kids from facing this or other consequences of personal data theft.
There are identity theft protection plans and options available that monitor online behavior for risks, check numerous accounts for signs of trouble and send quick alerts to allow proactive protection. In this online age, it’s clear why adults need such protection. Now, it’s time to extend the same care to kids’ online details. Get Identity Guard today to help keep a secure eye on your family’s online activity.