As children head back to school this fall, many will experience more screen time for things like class projects, remote learning, social media, Zoom chats, and making purchases. With all that time online, according to a 2021 study by Javelin Strategy and Research, nearly one in 50 children will become victims of identity theft. Scammers often target children because no one expects them to have a credit record – consequently, criminals could spend years using a child’s identity without getting caught.

In addition to children, identity thieves also tend to target educational organizations. reports that of the 5.3 million ransomware attacks each month, 61% occur at schools. They know that parents often willingly give their children’s personally identifiable information to their schools, and that many schools are operating outdated, insecure networks.

Fixing identity theft problems can be expensive for families. How can you prevent your child or grandchild from becoming a victim? Try these five steps to get started:

1 – If the child’s school asks for her Social Security number, ask these questions:

Why do you need it? How will you protect my child’s information? Can I provide a different identifier instead of her Social Security number? Would the last four digits of the Social Security number be acceptable?

2 -Teach children good digital hygiene.

This could involve creating rules around online purchases, use of social media accounts, or creating new accounts. Discuss the importance of creating strong and unique passwords, as well as the risks of sharing private information online. Encourage kids to use a nickname instead of their real names if they participate on gaming sites, or a first and middle name on social media sites. Arkose Labs offers The ABCs of Fraud, a book to help parents talk to their children about identity theft and how to prevent it.

3 – Check, then freeze, your child’s credit report.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission explains that generally, a child under 18 won’t have a credit report unless someone is using the child’s identity for fraudulent purposes, so if you find that your child has one, it’s time to be suspicious. Start by contacting the three major credit bureaus for a manual search of your child’s Social Security number. If you find your child’s credit has been compromised, contact the companies where the fraud occurred and ask to close the account. Contact the credit bureaus to explain what happened and to ask that the fraudulent accounts be removed. Then, freeze your child’s credit report to make it more difficult for fraudsters to open a new account in your child’s name.

4 – Consider investing in an ID protection plan for your family.

An identity theft protection plan typically offers features like account monitoring, credit reporting, and anti-virus software, but some plans also offer child Social Security number monitoring. Shop around to find the best plan for your family.

5 – Disable pre-filled payment details from your devices.

While it may be convenient to keep credit card information stored on frequently used sites like Amazon, disabling payment details can help you stop inadvertent purchases by children.

Although it can be difficult to monitor your child’s online behavior at all times, using parental controls, setting appropriate rules, and teaching proper online safety protocols to children at a young age can go a long way toward protecting your family from an expensive fraud consequence.

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