11 Ways to Help Better Protect Your School-Aged Child from Identity Theft

When you were a child, your parents may have advised you not to talk to strangers or to be home before dark. But these days, kids have to learn how to navigate in an entire virtual world as well.

Both adults and children alike are at risk from having their information misused on the web. The difference is that a child likely doesn’t understand what information is safe to share online, and they may be unaware of the myriad of scams and malicious content that are pervasive on the internet.

In the more frightening scenario of cybercriminals who actually target children, they may use unique tactics that are hard for kids to resist, such as links to fan sites that contain malicious links, or offers of music or movies that a child might be tempted to download and could contain viruses or malware that represent a security threat.

School Data Breaches May Expose Students' Personal Data

Schools can be a tempting target for cybercriminals, as they typically store a mountain of personally identifiable information (PII) of both students and staff members.

The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center documented 122 cybersecurity incidents that impacted public K-12 school districts in the U.S. in 2018, which equates to one new incident every three days of the calendar year.

Student data was exposed in more than 60 percent of K-12 data breaches in 2018, and with the ever-growing adoption of technology in schools, K-12 cybersecurity incidents are expected to become both more frequent and potentially more significant.

Tweens and Teens: The Majority of Teens Have Been Bullied or Harassed Online Child

Teens may face particularly difficult challenges in the virtual world in the form of cyberbullying.

One type of cyberbullying is using a password that a child has previously shared with friends or classmates to break into his or her social media account and post embarrassing messages or images, or use the account to spread spam or post links to malicious sites.

Sadly, 59 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been bullied or harassed online.

11 Ways to Help Better Protect Your School-Aged Child

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help better protect your child from identity theft at every stage—from infants to school-aged children and from tweens to young adults starting out on their own. Many of these recommendations can be applied to all ages—and even used by parents to help better protect themselves.

  • Consider parental controls - Research the tools available that can help limit, monitor, or filter a child’s internet use. Depending on what’s right for you and your child, you can choose tools that filter certain content, limit time on device, monitor a child’s usage, or even disable outgoing content and in-app purchases.
  • Check privacy settings – Talk with your child about the importance of using the appropriate privacy settings, especially for social media networks and chat. It’s recommended to set strict privacy preferences on chat and video chat accounts, such as whether other users can see if the child is currently online and who can send the child messages.
  • Create a safe screen name – Talk with your child about their screen name for apps and games and what it reveals about them. A safe screen name won’t divulge the child’s full name, age, where they live, gender, email address, or even seemingly innocent information like a jersey number. It also shouldn’t contain any vulgar or suggestive words as this can attract the wrong type of attention.
  • Create strong passwords and keep them private - Teach children never to share passwords, even with their friends. Talk about safe password habits, such as creating a ”passphrase” that would be difficult for others to guess, and using different passwords for different accounts.
  • Talk about what information can be shared--and what shouldn’t - Kids typically like to share a lot of personal details online, including pictures, videos, plans, and their location. Talk with your child about what types of information should never be shared, such as their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and financial information.
  • Be aware of school privacy policies - Pay attention to notices from your child’s school that explains your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), including your right to approve the disclosure of personal information in your child’s records. Don’t forget to also review the privacy policies for any extracurricular programs your child participates in, as those programs could have websites in which children are named and pictured.
  • Consider opting out of the school directory - Student directory information may include your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you want to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties, it’s best to put your request in writing. If you don't opt-out, directory information may be available to the school community as well as to the general public.
  • Talk about how to avoid malicious links – Malicious links can be found on video sharing sites, in ads or invites and may lead kids to inappropriate or illegal content to third-party sites that capture sensitive information. Teach kids to be wary of tempting links, like “make a new friend” or “find out who’s talking about you.”
  • Train them to recognize inappropriate online behavior by others – Educate your child on how to detect intrusive or predatory behavior online. One option is to role play with them about what they’d do if someone was asking nosy questions in person or was standing too close to them. Then talk about the online equivalent of that inappropriate behavior as well as actions they should take if they encounter it.
  • Keep an open line of communication - A myriad of experts--from Google’s Safe Search to non-profit KidsHealth to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)--recommend one key element in helping kids stay safer online: open communication with their parents or guardians.
  • Check their credit at age 16 - Check whether your child has a credit report close to his or her 16th birthday. If it has errors due to fraud or misuse, you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, needs a loan for tuition or a car, or attempts to rent an apartment. If you placed an earlier credit freeze, you will have to lift it before the child applies for new credit.

What Parents Need to Know From Birth to Teenage Years

For more ways to help better protect children in other stages, including infants, teenagers, and young adults starting out on their own, download the white paper, “Child Identity Theft: What Parents Need to Know From Birth to Teenage Years.”

How to Report a Suspected Problem

  • If you believe you or your child has been the victim of identity theft, report the incident to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.