Parents, it’s time to have the talk with your kids.
Not about the birds and the bees, but about identity theft.
“Parents really have to be computer savvy to keep up with the kids,” said Captain Kim Robison of the Elkin Police Department. “It’s a struggle.”
A new law enacted Jan. 1 gives parents a new tool in the fight against identity theft by allowing parents and guardians the right to place a credit freeze on a child’s or incapacitated adult’s credit report.
“A security freeze locks down your credit report to keep identity thieves from opening accounts and racking up debts in your name,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement.
“ID theft can strike victims of any age and now parents can protect their kids’ credit from the very beginning.”
While security freezes have been available for North Carlina adults, the major credit bureaus have said in the past that they could not freeze credit reports for minors who had not yet established any credit.
The new law requires credit bureaus to create and freeze a child’s or incapacitated adult’s credit report upon request of a parent or guardian.
Although children may not be using their own credit cards or have accounts in their names, their information is still vulnerable when names and addresses can be obtained online and through social media.
The toy manufacturer vTech released a statement in December regarding a cyber attack that affected data on about 6.4 million children and about 4.9 million parents worldwide.
Profiles for an app store and messaging system for the company included children’s names, birthdays and gender. Adult information included name, mailing address, email address, password retrieval questions, IP address and passwords.
A security freeze can be obtained through the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion by mail, telephone or online and can be lifted permanently or temporarily by using a pin or password established when the freeze is set up.
It may cost up to $5 per credit bureau to place or lift a freeze for a child but is free if the child already has a credit report or has been a victim of identity theft.
Robison said that while her department hasn’t run across any children specifically targeted for identity theft locally, “all kids are online these days.”
She shared some tips provided by the Federal Trade Commission for protecting children against identity theft:
• use strong passwords, never with the child’s name or birthday
• make sure children understand the risk of sharing files (i.e. posting photos to Instagram)
• make sure the child’s anti-virus software is updated regularly
• teach children not to open emails where they don’t recognize the sender
• adjust the privacy settings on social media accounts to limit who can view the child’s news feeds or profile
• don’t post photos that identify the child’s school, sports, birthdays or anything that might betray identifying information, and don’t include that information in profiles or posts
• always send copies of documents such as birth certificates, never send the original
Robison said for every adult, “it’s always a good idea to go online and check your credit report every couple of months. If you see something that doesn’t look right, they can get working on it.”
If there’s a problem, first make a police report then submit it to the FTC, Robison said.
Warning signs that identity theft has occurred include calls from a collection agency or medical bills in a child’s name.
“A child could have been denied benefits because someone’s been using their social security number,” Robison said.
For more information, visit the NC Department of Justice at ncdoj.gov/creditfreeze, call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or visit IdentityTheft.gov.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.