Back to School Safety & Child Identity Theft: Why You Should Care
It’s back to school season, and the urge to take your child’s first day school photos and put them all over social media is strong.
You’re proud of your kids, you want to show their growth, and your support to them as a parent.
However, let’s look at those photos as if we’re an identity thief or cyber scammer, looking to take advantage of all the details you’re sharing.
Consider what’s visible in the background of your photos, everything from your street to your house number.
All these are details are used to build a profile of you and your family. For someone with more nefarious intentions, they’re cataloging every detail as a roadmap to you.
Parents include extraneous details in those first school day photos, including children’s names, age, school, grade, and even what their child wants to be when they grow up.
It’s a cute photo for socials, and a wealth of information for identity thieves and scammers.
Additionally, have you thought about all those stickers and magnets you put on the back of your car? Everything you put on your vehicle, provides information about you, your kids, your lifestyle, your child’s school and sports teams.
Imagine for a minute what a determined identity thief, scammer or predator could do with all that free information.
Identity Theft and Your Children
You’ve had discussions with your kids about online safety, but there’s always a new app or game that exposes more of their personally identifiable information (PII), right along with yours.
You must treat any online apps or websites used for school activities and assignments the same way you would the apps your children use for recreational purposes.
Simply because the school decides to use a new app to help your child or teen track assignments, doesn’t mean the data is secure, or the app is safe.
A recent example of this is the Saturn app, a new scheduling app where students can upload class schedules and find fellow classmates.
It’s an app marketed for high school students to find their classmates and integrate their socials all in one place. In theory, you could sign up for an account, claim to be from a specific high school and graduating class, and see all your other “classmates.”
The app target students specifically, and while the app updated some of their safety & privacy policies, it was only after parents of students using the app pointed out various security & privacy concerns.
The app now requires some level of verification to prove the student signing up is from the school they claim, however, the app’s website does not indicate how they verify this information. This means it’s still relatively simple to create a fraudulent account on the app.
The app also requires phone number for login (an identifier) and access to the contacts of the student’s phone to help verify their identity.
All of this to say, pay attention to the apps and activity on your child/teen’s phone, have open conversations about risks, privacy, and social media.
Other Ways Scammers Target your Children
Oftentimes the person targeting your kids is not a form of stranger danger, but instead someone you know.
So what do scammers want with your child’s Social Security Number (SSN) or PII? They use this information to apply for credit, take out loans or open bank accounts in your child’s name.
Once a scammer or hacker has stolen your child’s SSN, they can file for government benefits, commit tax fraud, or even use it as leverage later in life.
The aftermath when your child becomes an adult is a ruined credit record before they’re old enough to apply for bank accounts or loans. Your child could be denied financial aid, employment or have ruined credit, all due to unpaid debts that accrued as a result of identity theft.
What Can you Do to Protect Your Children & Yourself?
The goal here is to help you and your child not become victims of identity theft, and to prepare you for when it does happen.
Avoid sharing personal details about your child. Back-to-school photos are cute, but make you target rich for scammers and predators. Every detail is a tool to get to know you, your child, and your life.
Leave off any information about your kids’ school. Sharing the name of the school seems harmless enough, but it’s another data point straight to you and your family.
It’s quite common for people to use details about their children as answers to security questions for banking or credit cards, and scammers are counting on you making it easier for them to hack you.
Use strong passwords, instead of easy to remember ones based on your children or pet’s names.
Watch out for fake friend requests. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know, but also ensure your children aren’t accepting unknown friend requests on their gaming apps and social media apps.
Double check your privacy settings across all your socials. Review your account privacy setting regularly, and restrict who can see your posts. You may want to remove identifying information others can see, including telephone numbers or address.
Check your own credit report annually with the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian & Equifax) and consider a security freeze on your credit accounts. You can remove the freeze temporarily if need to open a bank account or credit card.
Another small but simple thing you can do is check your bank statements regularly for any odd transactions. Oftentimes the scammers will get your information first, and then your child’s.
Additional steps you can take, put a credit freeze of your child’s credit with the three major credit reporting agencies.
Use parental controls where appropriate on devices and, secure your child’s mobile devices (two-factor authentication, pin codes).
Wipe devices before giving them away or recycling them.
Restrict what you and your children share online and teach your children to protect their information.
If you suspect you or your child’s identity was stolen, you can get help at https://www.identitytheft.gov
The site helps you put together a recovery plan and checklist on steps to take immediately if you believe identity theft has occurred.
Don’t forget to file a police report once you’ve got your identity theft report from the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Gov site.
Keep in mind this information is generic in nature, and may not represent your particular situation.
Sources: Better Business Bureau, https://www.joinsaturn.com/blog/keeping-students-safe-on-saturn