Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Many of us grownups can recognize a phishing email or text message and know not to click on links. But do your children and grandchildren know how to protect their personal information?
Online criminals are increasingly targeting children for identity theft because their personal information can be more profitable for them. That’s because cyber criminals can use children’s identities for years to commit fraud – until the kids are old enough to get a job and apply for credit on their own.
Children’s Social Security numbers are especially valuable for cyber criminals who specialize in something known as “synthetic identity fraud.” Cyber criminals will use real Social Security numbers and make up other personal information to create fake identities that can be used to make fraudulent purchases using online financial technology and payments systems.
An AARP-sponsored study found that one in 50 children were the target of identity theft and one in 45 were hit by a data breach. Sadly, many perpetrators of child identity theft are a relative or family friend – someone with access to personal and identifying information – who can’t get credit on their own and steal a child’s identity to get credit cards and loans. In other cases, imposters pose as someone a child knows to get personal information. In other cases, a child’s personal information is taken in a data breach and sold to other criminals.
Protecting your children and grandchildren from financial con artists involves using the same tools you should already be using to protect yourself. These include:
Credit Freezes: Call the main credit-reporting agencies and ask them to freeze your credit and your children’s credit. It’s free and it means you will be notified if someone tries to open a credit card or take out a loan in your name or your children’s names.
Learn the Signs of Scams: Learn how to recognize phishing attempts and be careful about giving out personal information and teach your children to avoid giving out personal information. Don’t click on links in emails or text messages. Be wary of online deals that seem too good to be true and be careful about filling out social media surveys and giving out personal information to enter contests.
Don’t Repeat Passwords: Use strong and different passwords. Consider using password manager software and have your children do the same. Sign up for multi-factor authentication.
Monitor Your Credit: Sign up for notifications on your credit cards and bank accounts. Do the same for your children’s accounts. Monitoring your own credit can be done for free but it requires some effort. Consider paid credit monitoring services if they are a better option for you. Sign your children up for credit monitoring as well.
For more information on protecting yourself and your family from identity theft, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network Website at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. Also, if you missed last month’s fraud prevention seminars by former cyber-criminal Brett Johnson, you can watch a video of his presentation on the AARP Hawai‘i Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.