Prevent identity theft: teach kids safe browsing habits

When your kids are online – whether they’re watching videos or playing games – you likely worry about the content they’re consuming. As a parent, it’s also important to think about the information they’re giving out and to teach them about safe browsing. That’s because online identity thieves are also targeting unsuspecting children.

When your children have access to home computers, smartphones, and tablets, they may be unknowingly sharing confidential information with the wrong people. There are a number of tools available to help you protect your identify, but when it comes to your kids, prevention truly begins with parents.

To help guard your family against identity theft, think about these questions.

Does your child understand the key concepts involved?

Start by helping kids understand why it’s important to be cautious about sharing personal information online. Share with them what “identity” means before they begin experimenting online, says Susan KnottBranch Manager, Cobalt Credit Union.

Explain it in terms they can understand, depending on their age. For example, a teenager wanting to buy a car might be interested to learn that a financial institution will examine his credit history before determining if he can have a loan. If someone has been using his personal information fraudulently, it could result in him being denied.

Do you protect and monitor your child’s Social Security number?

“Very few parents take the time to monitor activity on a child’s Social Security number, which is what identity thieves are counting on,” Knott says. They use the child’s identity to open accounts, and by the time a child is old enough to apply for credit, there could already be damage to their credit history. Just as you are cautious about your own Social Security number, be vigilant about protecting your child’s information – even from other members of your family.

Does your child have a credit report?

Your child’s financial history won’t be compiled by credit reporting agencies until he applies for a credit card or there is a public record associated with his identity. In most cases, he shouldn’t have a credit report. If he does, it could be a sign that someone is using his information illegally.

To check for a credit report, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax). Of the three, TransUnion, makes the process fairly straightforward. If there’s not a report on file, your child is likely not a victim of ID theft. If you’d like to request a report from all three agencies, download the form and follow the details provided by the Identity Theft Resource Center.

If you believe your or your child’s identity has been stolen, there’s no time to waste. Along with TransUnion’s identity theft inquiry form, the Cobalt Credit Union Essential ID Theft Checklist provides a list of the steps you should take the moment you suspect your identity has been compromised.

Do you monitor your child’s online activity?

Internet-enabled devices should be located in your home where you can see what your kids are doing and ensure safe browsing. You can also put parental restrictions on devices or install Internet-monitoring software to help you keep tabs on your child’s activities.

What devices are they using to access the Internet?

Have you ever given your child your smartphone to play a game? If you have banking information or pre-programmed credit card information on your phone, a child could share your personal account information with a few seemingly innocent clicks.

Do your children have access to your credit/debit card information?

Don’t give kids your credit card information or leave your wallet in a place where they can easily access it. Additionally, don’t let them know your PIN, Knott says. “This information, along with the security number on the back of a debit card or credit card, needs to be kept strictly confidential and never, at any time, given to a child who might remember it to use at a later time,” she advises. And whether they’re using your card or their own, make sure you’re in the room at the time of all purchases to review the site and to oversee the online payment process.

Remember to download the Essential ID Theft Checklist for free!

The Cobalt Credit Union Essential ID Theft Checklist provides a list of the urgent next steps you should take the moment you suspect identity fraud.

Is this site for real?

Sometimes kids (and adults) don’t realize they’re giving their information to thieves. The website appears legitimate – and to be selling legitimate products. However it could be a fake or “phishing” site. Here’s what to tell your child to look for on websites to ensure safe browsing:

Does it look slightly off? A site might have a large brand name but look poorly designed and just not quite right. This could be a sign it’s a fake. Blurry photos, misspelled words, or content that doesn’t seem to fit are all signs of a phishing site.

Does it appear different? If the site has changed a lot since you last visited, double-check the URL in the address bar to make sure it’s the site you want to be on. If in doubt, retype the URL into the address bar being careful of typos.

Check your browser software. Make sure your software and security settings are up-to-date.

Look for the signs. Major (legitimate) retailers use security measures or data encryption to protect their customers. Look to make sure the Web address begins with https:// and that there’s a padlock symbol next to the address bar.