Your Baby May Have Just Bought a Car - and You Don't Even Know It
Parents expecting a new child hope they're asking all the right questions: What is the safest car seat? What is a layette? Does a newborn need shoes?
Here's one thing parents aren't usually putting on a registry, but should: identity protection.
As soon as a child is born, his or her identity can be stolen. In fact, it is in high demand. The "clean slate" financial histories of minors make their identities worth top dollar on the black market. Researchers at Terbium Labs, a dark web intelligence firm, found ads for baby's data offering $300 worth of bitcoin per child last year. A thief who purchases this information can open up a credit card in that child's name, build mounting debt and even purchase a car.
With 773 million emails stolen recently - in what was quite possibly the largest breach of all time - Americans are, rightly, thinking seriously about identity protection. But many don't consider the identities of their kids, even though children's identities are actually more vulnerable to data breaches. Among minors who were notified that their information was breached during 2017, 39 percent became victims of fraud, compared with 19 percent of notified adults.
In 2017 alone, more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Two-thirds were under 7 years old.
Child identity theft usually begins with a social security number - and social security numbers can be assigned to a baby in as little as one week after birth. But any information you post about your child online, from the moment they are born, can put that child's identity at risk. According to new research from ID Experts, 3 in 4 adults believe children's privacy is highly at risk across all social media platforms.
Let's say the social security number you gave to your newborn's pediatrician was compromised in a data breach. Now a criminal might have that baby's name, social security number and parents' names. Next, he goes online. He looks for things like birthday posts on the parents' social media pages. He looks for what city the family lives in. Soon, he has a full set of data on that child.
Posting information about your child also opens him or her up to digital kidnapping - a creepy new trend in social media. Digital kidnappers take screenshots of pictures posted on social media and use them for online role-playing games, pretending the child is their own and assigning other players to act as online "family members." While most digital kidnapping doesn't lead to physical harm to those children, the possibilities are dangerous.
Here are some things you can do to protect your child's identity:
- Consider purchasing identity monitoring for your child - or gifting it to someone you know. Real-time monitoring is critical, because thieves move fast. A 2017 Federal Trade Commission study found that identity thieves use data 9 minutes after it was posted online.
- Check your child's credit. Children aren't supposed to have credit reports. If they do, someone has probably stolen their identity. You may also want to consider contacting credit report bureaus about freezing your child's credit.
- Don't share social security numbers with anyone you don't have to. Even school records and doctors offices can be targeted by hackers. And make sure you know who has information on your child: 6 in 10 child victims of identity theft personally know the perpetrator.
- Set social media settings to private and turn off phone and camera locations. This makes it less likely that your private information will be exposed to hackers. New privacy protection tools like SocialSentry scan social media platforms for digital threats, exposed personal information and malicious links to make deleting problematic content and protecting your family's privacy simple. And with a recently exposed Facetime glitch allowing users to hear and see the people they call - even if they don't answer their phone - make sure you are updating your software regularly so you have access to app repairs.
When it comes to protecting your child's identity, you can never start too soon. Prevention is worth its weight in gold.
Thomas F. Kelly is president and CEO of ID Experts, a Portland, Oregon-based provider of data breach and identity protection services, such as MyIDCare. He is a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and an expert in cyber security technologies.
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