Picture an infant with a credit card.
In her name. With a $10,000 limit.
Well, it happens. As recent as 2017, it was estimated that more than 1 million children in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. Of them, two-thirds were under the age of seven, and the total losses connected to all this fraud weighed in $2.6 billion dollars.
As I mentioned in part one of our article on the connected lives of babies, babies can make their first digital footprints before they’re even born. What’s more, the moment a child enters this world along with a unique ID like a Social Security Number, they become a tempting target for cybercriminals. The reason is this: babies and very young children are effectively a blank slate, upon which crooks can write their own illicit history of fraud. And it can be years before you or your child find out, long after the damage to their credit has been done.
So, let’s pick up where we left off in part one by taking a close look baby’s privacy and how you can protect it.
Protect baby’s identity
There’s rightfully a great deal of conversation out there about the things we can do to protect our identity from theft. What’s talked about less often is protecting children from identity theft. In fact, little ones are high-value targets for cybercriminals is because we typically don’t run credit reports on children. In this way, a crook with the Social Security Number of a child in the U.S. can open all manner of credit and accounts and go undetected for years until that child attempts to rent an apartment or open his or her first credit card.
To protect your family from this kind of identity theft, the major credit reporting agencies suggest the following:
I. Check your child’s credit regularly. If your child indeed has a credit report against their name, there’s a strong chance that their identity has been stolen. You can work directly with the credit reporting agency to begin resolving the issue. If there is theft, file a report with the appropriate law enforcement agency. You’ll want a record of this as you dispute any false records.
II. Freeze your child’s credit. A freeze will prevent access to your child’s report and thus prevent any illicit activity. In the U.S., you’ll need to create a separate freeze with each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). It’s free to do so, yet you’ll have to do a little legwork to prove that you’re indeed the child’s parent or guardian.
III. Secure your documents and keep personal info close to the vest. Along with things like a passport, insurance cards, and birth certificates, store these items in a safe location when you’re not actively using them. That goes extra for Social Security cards. Likewise, doctor’s offices often ask patients for their Social Security Number, which typically helps with their billing. See if they can accept an alternative form of ID, use just the last four digits, or simply forgo it altogether.
Register a URL for your child
Getting your kiddo a website is probably low on your list of priorities, yet it’s a sound move to consider. Here’s why: it carves out a piece of digital real estate that’s theirs and theirs alone.
Whether you opt for a dot-com or one of several hundred other extensions like .net, .us, and .me, a personal URL gives you and your child ownership of yet another piece of their digital identity. No one else can own it as long as you’re paying the fee to maintain it. Think of it as an investment. Down the road, it could be used for a personal email address, a professional portfolio site someday, or just a side project in web design. With internet URLs being a finite resource, it’s wise to see if spending a relatively small fee each a year is worth securing this piece of your child’s identity.
Sharenting: Think of baby’s future
We all have one—that picture from our childhood that we absolutely dread because it’s embarrassing as all get-out. Now contrast that with today’s digital age, where an estimated 95 million photos are posted each day on Instagram alone. We’re chronicling our lives, our friends’ lives, and the lives of our families at an incredible rate—almost without thinking about it. And that opens a host of issues about privacy and just how much we share. Enter the notion of “sharenting,” a form of oversharing that can trample your child’s right to privacy.
For babies, we have to remember that they’re little people who, one day, before you know it, will grow up. How will some of those photos that seemed cute in the moment hold up when baby gets older? Will those photos that you posted prove embarrassing some day? Could they be used to harm their reputation or damage their sense of privacy and trust in you?
With that, let’s remember a couple things when it comes to sharing photos of our children:
• The internet is forever. Work on this basic assumption: once you post it, it’s online for good.
• Babies have a right to privacy too. It’s your job to protect it while they can’t.
So, before you post, run through that one-two mental checklist.
Sharenting: Identity Theft
Sharenting can also lead to identity theft. In 2018, Barclay’s financial services estimated that oversharing by parents on social media will amount to more than 7 million cases of identity theft a year by 2030—just shy of a billion dollars U.S. worth of damage. This includes all the tips and cues that crooks can glean from social media posts and geographic metadata that’s captured in photographic files. Things like birthdays, pet names, names of schools, favorite teams, maiden names, and so forth are all fodder for password hacks and targeted phishing attacks. The advice here is to keep your digital lives close to the vest:
I. Set all social media accounts to private. Nothing posted on the internet is 100% private. Even when you post to “friends only,” your content can still get copied and re-shared.
II. This way, the general public can’t see what you’re posting. However, keep in mind that nothing you ever post online is 100% private. Someone who has access to your page could just as easily grab a screenshot of your post and then continue to share it that way.
III. Go into your phone’s settings and disable location information for photos. Specifics will depend on the brand of your phone, but you should have an option via the phone’s “location services” settings or within the camera app itself. Doing so will prevent the geographic location, time, date, and even device type from appearing in the metadata of your photos.
IV. Above all, think twice about posting in the first place. “Do I really need to share this?” is the right question to ask, particularly if it can damage your child’s privacy or be used by a scammer in some form, whether today or down the road.
The first steps for keeping your family safe online
Like new parents don’t have enough to think about already! However, thinking about these things now at the earliest stages will get you and your growing family off on a strong and secure start, one that you can build on for years to come—right up to the day when they ask for their first smartphone. But you have a while before that conversation crops up, so enjoy!
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