With more than 140,000 incidents each year, child- identity theft is one of the nation's fastest-growing crimes. If that doesn't shock you, this might: Your kid may already be a victim. That's because this type of fraud often goes undetected until a child applies for his first credit card -- and finds out he's racked up thousands in phony debt. Erik Larson, president of the consumer-information resource NextAdvisor.com, says taking these precautions will help safeguard your child's good name.
If your school or doctor's office requests it, just say no. Don't give it out to your child or carry it in your wallet either (in case it gets lost or stolen).
Shred anything addressed to you or your child before throwing it out it. Also watch for preapproved credit offers, bills, or collection notices in your child's name. These are red flags that someone may be using his identity. If possible, trace the offer back to the source and demand that your child's name be removed from the mailing list.
Identity thieves troll networking websites, so stress to your Club Penguin user the importance of never giving out her full name, birthday, phone number, or house address to anyone online. Know your child's logins and passwords for her online and e-mail accounts, monitor her usage closely, and periodically change the password on all the sites she frequents.
Install software to thwart hackers, such as Norton Internet Security ($40 for a one-year subscription; norton.com). You should also avoid keeping sensitive data on your computer. Store it in a secure location, such as in a safe or on an encrypted flash drive.
Set up a password for your cell phone, tablet, and laptop. Otherwise a thief can instantly gain access to your data or accounts. You should also install an app featuring a GPS tracker and a remote data-eraser that can wipe out any information stored on the device, such as Lookout (free for iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle; lookout.com).
It's free to get a copy of your child's credit report at all three credit bureaus. But these ID-protection services may be worth the fee, for your peace of mind. They monitor your credit report and will help you resolve problems if your child becomes a victim.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Parents magazine.