Protecting children from identity theft

Mar 20, 2018 | By: Julie Luhrsen

Earlier this month, Florida Virtual School students, parents, alumni and staff were made aware of a huge data breach.

The breach started in May 2016 and ended last month, with the personal information of 370,000 individuals compromised. Names, dates of birth, school account numbers, usernames, passwords and email addresses have all potentially been exposed as a result of the security breach.

While the school is offering one year of free identity protection, there are additional precautions those affected can take. A notice released by the school advises vigilance, including reviewing accounts and credit reports for suspicious activity or changes.

Depending on the account(s), fraud alerts and credit freezes may increase security against unexpected activity. A credit freeze can prevent the credit report from going out to potential lenders until the freeze is intentionally removed. Unfortunately, there are many methods of identity theft and multiple ways the stolen identity can be used.

But much of this advice applies primarily to adults, who typically have more extensive and active credit history. So what action do the students of FLVS take?

Identifying, addressing credit issues for potential identity theft of minors

Most minors should not have a credit report, according to Searching for and finding one should be a red flag. It could be indicative that someone is using the child’s identity and social security number to open fraudulent accounts.

Other signs include calls, bills or pre-approved credit card applications in the child’s name. If there is a credit report, it could be time-intensive but important to repair the damage done before the minor starts applying for credit cards, loans or college.

The three national credit-reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) do not knowingly keep data on children under 13. Each has specific processes in place for the request of a child’s credit information.

Other ways to protect a child from identity theft

Aside from the danger of an electronic breach, there are other ways to help protect a child’s identity. Keep any financial documents related to them in a safe, private place. This includes anything from social security cards and birth certificates to insurance cards and child custody paperwork.

General awareness is also critical. If applications (for summer camps, jobs, etc.) request a lot of personal information, know how they’re using it, who you’re giving it to and even if it’s all absolutely required. Labeling your child’s belongings externally with full names or initials can also provide a walking billboard for individuals looking for easily accessible information. And it’s important to be cautious while traveling – public Wi-Fi is an easy target for obtaining personal information.

A data breach like the one recently experienced by the FLVS is unfortunate. However, there are steps that can be taken to protect personal information and minimize the damage of identity theft.