As you prepare to send your kids back to school, experts warn you need to think about more than supplies, clothes and bus schedules. You also need to think about identity theft.
School districts across North Texas request your child's Social Security number along with all the other personal information identity thieves need.
And schools aren't the only places where your child's personal information is stored. One Richardson mother cringed as she counted the number places her children's Social Security numbers had been requested. They included drama camps, sports camps and a number of doctors' offices.
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"It's so frightening because you do everything and to keep your kids safe," said Kelli Pawkett, a mother of two. "You teach him don't talk to strangers; don't go off with people that you don't know. I mean, you teach them every safety precaution you can, and at the same time you're handing over all of their information to so many people!"
Dr. Lynne Vieraitis, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, has interviewed more than 60 identity thieves and says the crime is shockingly easy to commit, and children are sometimes convenient targets.
"There's a long period of time that you can go undetected if you're using a child's information," said Vieraitis. "Usually it's about that age of 16 when you're applying for driver's license or 18 when you might be applying for credit cards or college when it sort of comes to light."
That's why Texas legislators approved a child credit freeze law that took effect last year.
"Eighteen states, including Texas, have this on the book where parents may proactively go out and create a file in their child's name and then freeze it so that proactively they're preventing fraud from occurring in their child's name," said Megan Cox, of the Federal Trade Commission.
The agencies require a great deal of information before they will freeze your child’s account. For example, Experian asks you to mail the following documents:
- A copy of the (parent/guardian) driver's license or government-issued ID
- Proof of address (such as a utility bill, insurance statement, etc.)
- A copy of the minor child's birth certificate
- A copy of the minor child's Social Security card
- The child's full name
- The child's date of birth
- A list of previous address for the last two years
The agency says the documents are necessary to protect children.
"Children are a prime target for identity theft, and Experian takes every precaution to protect these vulnerable targets," said Kelsey Stagner, an Experian spokesperson. "Experian must be sure that the person requesting the credit report is indeed the legal guardian."
Experts also say don't give your child's information to schools, camps or even doctors' offices without questioning why they need it, how they'll store it and how they'll dispose of it.