When Americans think of identity theft, many see distressed individuals who have lost their savings accounts to criminals and face thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card debt. Most don't see a young 13-year-old who still may not know the meaning of identity theft or credit score. However, more criminals are targeting young children and ruining their credit before they even hit high school. Summer provides a prime opportunity for criminals to obtain a youth's personal information as kids have more time to spend online without supervision.
"The younger the victim, the more time these thieves have to exploit the child's identity," Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection's Susan Schilz said. "Identity theft against a child can go undetected for years and do a lot of damage to their good name," she added.
After more concerns were raised over the privacy issues surrounding social networking sites, the Federal Trade Commission has decided to review the current Children's Online Privacy Protection Act that was enacted in 2000. Under current laws, the act dictates that parents must give their consent before websites can collect, use or disclose any personal information provided by a minor under the age of 13.
But new proposals may tighten the current laws and expand the scope of what is covered under the act. Under the new proposals, certain technology such as mobile devices and interactive television may be included in COPPA. New provisions would also improve verification methods for parents and expand the type of information that may be collected from minors.
The Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection is encouraging parents to obtain a copy of their child's credit report to ensure no accounts or lines of credit have been opened under their name.
"The credit reporting agencies do not knowingly maintain credit files on children," Schilz affirmed. "A check of your child's credit should turn up nothing until the age of 18 unless they are the victim of identity theft or a secondary user on a credit card authorized by a parent."
The FTC also recommends that children understand the dangers of posting personal information on social networking sites. The agency encourages users to refrain from posting their full name, birthday, address or any other identifying information that could be used for criminal purposes. More than 11 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. Most criminals target children in order to use their Social Security number for employment purposes.