NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Getting your child ready to head back to school means shopping for supplies, updating immunization records – and remaining aware of potential identity theft issues. According to research by Veracode, minors are 50 times more likely to be victims of identity theft, and 10% of children under the age of 18 have already had their identities stolen.

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These statistics certainly are a cause for concern, but the matter may be even more serious. A 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research concluded that child identity theft has "reached a crisis level" and may be under-reported. While adults usually detect identity theft within short order, you may not know your child has had their identity lifted for years.

Think about all the paperwork, the duplicate forms that are filled out in a rush and the enrollment information that passes through hand after hand. From school registration documents to extracurricular activities, your child's information is practically broadcast to the public. And this doesn't even consider the potential threats from your child's computer use at home and school.

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"It's important to ask why an organization needs your child's full name, date of birth and Social Security number," says Trey Loughran of Equifax, a leading consumer and commercial data provider. "This is your child's identity -- it's something parents should not give away casually, especially as the incidence of identity theft continues to grow among Americans of all ages."

Loughran offers these tips for back-to-school identity theft precautions:

  • Carry your child's Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you only when necessary.
  • When not in use, keep these documents locked in a safe place.
  • If you are asked for your child's Social Security number, ask these three questions: Why is it needed? Isn't there another way to identify my child? How will my child's information be protected? Only reveal your child's Social Security number if you have no other option.
  • Before providing information, ask how the school or organization stores and discards sensitive documents.
  • Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy documents with your child's full name and other identifying details, including date of birth.
  • Teach your children the importance of protecting their personal information on social media. Children should never post their full name, address, date of birth or other details on social media sites.
  • Make sure your kids use passwords for their smartphones and tablets, and teach them the importance of changing passwords frequently and never sharing passwords with others.
  • Teach older kids with credit, debit and ATM cards to check their statements each month and be discreet when keying in PINs.

From a computer-use standpoint, Veracode recommends that parents urge children to never share personal information or passwords, ask before installing software and report any online harassment.

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Parents should install virus software, use parental controls, limit time spent online and keep computers in an open area so that they can be monitored.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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