Warning signs of ID theft and actions you can take to protect and inspect your child's school information: Internet Scambusters #682
Carelessly guarded school information could provide a route for crooks to steal identity information about your children.
But there's a law that enables you to inspect that info and opt out of it being shared with third parties, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have an urgent alert about a new scam that aims to steal your bank information by inviting you to participate in a bogus store quality-control program.
Let's get started...
Could School Information Lead to Children's Identity Theft?
Every time you fill in a form or provide school information about your children, you're putting them at risk of identity theft.
It's a shocking thought, isn't it? And of course, most schools have tough security rules in place to protect data about their students.
But, in an age where hacking and other forms of data theft has become commonplace, it's important to think about protecting your children's information. Because, chances are that they won't!
According to a 2012 survey*, 1 in 40 U.S. families with children under age 18 had at least one child whose personal information had been compromised.
(*Identity Theft Assistance Center and Javelin Strategy & Research Group)
As we've previously reported in Identity Theft Update: Kids, Students and Medical Services Are Key Targets for 2010, thieves mostly target children's Social Security numbers because youngsters don't have credit histories, so they haven't been flagged for any problems with the credit scoring agencies.
The crooks use the SSN, changing date of birth details to make credit and loan applications and for other criminal purposes.
In some cases, according to the study referred to above, the misuse of these numbers can go on undetected for years and can take even longer to repair.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warned parents about the dangers of giving away too much information about their children when they fill in forms for things like school directories, scholarships, sports teams, scouts, and so on.
Parents also should not carry their children's Social Security card or give out the number to anyone unless absolutely necessary.
But how do you know what information a school is storing about your children (or other kids in your family) and what's being done to protect it?
Most parents and guardians may not be aware of the provisions of a law known as the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is intended to protect the privacy of student records.
Under FERPA, schools must notify parents and guardians about their policy on school directories and give them the right to opt out of releasing directory information about their children to third parties.
The law also:
- Forbids improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from education records.
- Allows parents (or students aged 18 or over) to inspect and review education records and to provide a copy of them if required.
- Provides the right to have records amended.
However, it's important to know that FERPA only covers publicly funded schools. Private schools are not included.
There are also a lot of exclusions and exceptions even within the law, so it's worthwhile getting acquainted with its provisions.
There's a fairly readable summary, which also details the complaints process.
But of course, it's not just the information you provide to schools that puts children's identities at risk of theft.
Most kids today are walking around the schoolyard with a veritable mine of information about themselves stored on mobile devices.
So it's vital that parents teach children both to limit the information they share online and to protect their smartphones and tablets with passwords that they absolutely must not share.
If you have college students in the family, consider giving them a crosscut shredder for their room, especially if they're in a shared accommodation, encouraging them to shred all documents including credit card offers.
Indeed, shredding should be a must on the list of everyone who wants to protect their identity against theft.
See this useful Scambusters issue on that subject: Shredding: A Key Weapon in Your Document Security and Identity Theft Prevention Strategies.
The FTC lists three key warning signs that someone might be misusing personal information about your children:
- An application for government benefits is rejected because someone using your child's name is already receiving them.
- The IRS notifies your child that they haven't paid any income tax or that their SSN has been used on another tax return.
- You receive bills addressed to your child for products you or they didn't order or receive.
Apart from monitoring the use of personal information at school, the other key action you can take is to regularly check for a credit report in your children's names.
You can find details of how to do this and much more about protecting your children's identities in this downloadable guide.
The message is clear: your children are just as vulnerable to identity theft as you are, so think twice and be sure it's essential every time you're asked to provide school information or details about them to any other organization.
Alert of the week: Watch out for a scam letter pretending to be from Walmart saying you've been selected for their Quality Control Program.
The phony letter is accompanied by a check you're supposed to "activate" online before depositing it into your bank account.
But the supposed activation requires you to enter details of your bank account and -- bingo! -- the crooks have the info they need to drain your account, including the notional value of the bogus check you deposited before it's identified as a fake.
Meanwhile, you might also be in Walmart spending some of that money you don't really have, money that your bank will eventually demand back.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!