Tips to protect children from online identity theft

Apr 7, 2011 9:01am

By Jennifer Leuer of Experian’s ProtectMyID

In 1988, the Social Security Administration initiated a project that enabled parents to obtain Social Security numbers for their newborns. By 1989, the program was expanded nationwide.  Since that time, millions of newborns have received Social Security numbers. This makes them prime targets for identity theft. 

Thieves target children because they have clean credit records, making it easy for criminals to create new accounts. Since most parents don’t check regularly to see if their children have credit records, the crime can go undetected for years. Many times, the identity theft isn’t discovered until the youngster applies for a driver’s license or first job.

The prevalence of social networks adds another layer of identity theft risk. When children are online, they may be persuaded to share personal information that can lead to identity theft. 

How then, do we as parents or caregivers, help children navigate the potentially dangerous waters of the Internet? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Have the family computer installed in a visible area, such as the family room or other centralized location.
  • Have an “open phone” policy, if you allow your child to use a smartphone. Go over the texts and data they send and receive with them. Most plans allow you to set limits on texting, downloads, Internet access, and so forth.
  • Talk about the importance of never providing personal information online.  
  • If you allow your children to have social network accounts, help them review and select privacy settings.
  • Remind them that messages and photos they send, are “out there forever” when posted on social networking sites, and are easily transferred to anyone.
  • Educate them about online threats, including downloading games and other media. Viruses and malware are often attached or hidden in these types of activities.
  • Install security software such as firewalls, antivirus programs and privacy filtration software. Make sure your wireless home network is encrypted.
  • Monitor where they go online. Set the Internet browser security feature to high. Check out browser history in the web browser menu. Implement parental controls to block inappropriate websites. Consider setting time limits on how long and when they can access the Internet.
  • Maintain open lines of communication with your children regarding any concerns they may have over inappropriate or disturbing messages they may receive. Even the strongest security measures may not catch everything.

As a parent, I often think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s the same when it comes to child identity theft. The steps we can and should take to protect children from identity theft are a lot less stressful than the steps to clean up the aftermath of the crime. At ProtectMyID, we work hard to educate others about best ways to protect themselves against identity theft and are pleased that we can be a part of parents’ plans to protect their children.

Jennifer Leuer is general manager of Experian's ProtectMyID™, a leading, full-service provider of identity theft detection, protection and fraud resolution. In this capacity, Leuer directs the vision and strategy, marketing and day-to-day operations for the company’s protection vertical, including ProtectMyID for consumers and the data breach resolution offering for enterprises.

During her tenure with Experian, Leuer has also spent several years as vice president of Strategic Asset Assurance, overseeing the privacy, regulatory compliance, information security and risk management functions for the Interactive division’s group of dynamic online direct-to-consumer businesses. Her previous roles also include manager of Marketing Communications and director of Compliance and Risk Management for Experian Interactive.

Before moving to the online industry, Leuer was a reporter covering education and state government beats for a variety of Southern California daily newspapers, including the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. She also completed fellowships at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Indianapolis Star-News. During her time as a reporter, Leuer taught and mentored high school journalists at annual summer workshops run by the California Newspaper Publishers Association as well as the California Chicano News Media Association.

Leuer received her MBA from University of California Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from California State University, Fullerton. She is also a certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist.