If you watched the 2002 movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’ about Frank Abagnale’s teenage exploits in identity theft and forgery in the 1960’s, you might think that such theft wouldn’t be possible in the modern age of advanced technology and security.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As Abagnale himself would attest—after serving for four decades as a security consultant with the FBI—modern technology makes identity theft easier than ever.
In fact, he says children are more valuable targets of identity theft than adults, because their information can be used for years or even decades before the crime is discovered. According to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017, with two-thirds of those children age 7 or younger.
Identity theft and data security are important risks for all parents to consider. If you are an adoptive parent or foster parent, here are some specific ways you can keep the children in your home protected.
Theft of Personal Information
Because of the value of children’s data, cybersecurity firms find that hacked packages of data including children’s personal information—such as Social Security numbers, birthdates, and mothers’ maiden names—fetch a higher price. One package of stolen children’s data, discovered by cybersecurity firm Terbium Labs, had a sale price of $312, which is significantly more than the $5 sale price of bundled adult data.
Children in foster care may be even more vulnerable to identity theft, as their personal information is stored in case management software, is provided to foster parents, schools, and court officials, and is accessed by dozens of adults during their time in care.
Federal law allows children in foster care to receive copies of their credit reports at 16 and mandates that they receive assistance in resolving inaccuracies. The Credit Builders Alliance has a reference guide for caseworkers to help access credit reports for foster youth. Additionally, Symantec’s Fostering a Secure Tomorrow program (FAST) helps foster youth protect and restore their identities, with the support of Norton and LifeLock. The Identity Theft Resource Center is also committed to helping foster youth learn about identity security.
In general, minor children don’t have credit histories. If the child in your care does have a credit report, it is likely due to error, fraud, or identity theft. The Administration for Children and Families provides guidance on how to take action to clear a child’s report.
- Don’t share your child’s personal information online.
- Limit sharing your child’s Social Security number—online and off.
- Use unique passwords for unique login systems, and update those passwords regularly.
- Freeze your child’s credit so that no one can open lines of credit in his or her name. Check out your state attorney general's office for details on this process.
- Check out LifeLock's TechTalk factsheet for more tips!
Social Security Numbers
Obtaining a new Social Security number for children adopted through foster care can help you maintain confidentiality and prevent fraud and misuse, particularly if there is a concern that someone else may use your child’s personally identifiable information or PII, including their Social Security number, to apply for credit accounts or Social Security benefits in their name.
You can apply for a new Social Security number through the Social Security Administration before the adoption is complete, but you may want to wait until the adoption is finalized so that you can use the child’s new name (if applicable) and your name as their parent. You can also contact the IRS with Form W-7A (“Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions”) to claim you child while the adoption is still pending.
Tax fraud may be a concern for adoptive parents, who sometimes find that someone else has claimed their child as a dependent. The IRS will flag these issues in their system, and they encourage parents to file tax returns early to mitigate this risk. If your e-filed tax return is rejected, you’ll need to print it out and send a paper return to the IRS, along with a cover letter and documentation showing that you are his or her adoptive parent.
Social media can put your child at risk! Here are some ideas for keeping your child’s identity safe:
- Disable location tracking on your child’s devices.
- Don’t put birthdates or birthplaces on social media.
- Post pictures of children in groups, rather than alone. (If the child has not been officially adopted, check with your adoption agency to see if it’s okay to post pictures of them online.)
- Monitor children’s social media and internet usage and stress to them the importance of keeping personal information private.
- Don’t allow your child to use unsecured Wi-Fi networks.