Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world and it is believed that someone’s identity is stolen every two seconds.
According to South Africa’s largest credit bureau, TransUnion, identity theft is a “silent” crime because it can go undetected for many years while victim is totally unaware that enormous amounts of debt have been run up in their name.
In many cases the victim only becomes aware when they start receiving accounts and letters of demand for debts they know nothing about; or when they try applying for a loan or credit card and the application is declined because they are blacklisted.
According to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research 2018, more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud last year. Two-thirds of those victims were age 7 or younger and 6 in 10 child victims personally knew the perpetrator.
In a third of cases the perpetrator is a family friend, 22% by a parent/stepparent and the remaining 11% by other relatives such as uncles, cousins and siblings.
Experian is alerted to 25,000-30,000 fraud cases each year and approximately 17% were targeted at children. Child identity fraud or theft will affect 25% of kids before they turn 18.
Children are establishing online footprints earlier and earlier, which helps identity thieves gain access to their information. Your child’s identity can be stolen in any number of ways:
- Syndicates obtain information from social media profiles (where parents are quick to share their child’s achievements);
- Their school or Doctors office has been compromised in data breach;
- Syndicates steal mail from your postbox or your dustbin;
Whilst adults make prime targets of cyber criminals due to their positive bank account balances, the blank-slate a child provides can enable that criminal to do far more damage such as opening new lines of credit or purchasing big ticket items.
Any document, printed or electronic, that contains your child’s details puts them at risk of identity theft (e.g., customs forms filled out when traveling abroad, internet security breaches can also lead to personal information being stolen or leaked).
How do you know if your child’s identity has been stolen?
- Your child begins to receive suspicious mail, like pre-approved credit cards and other financial offers normally sent to adults, in his or her own name.
- You try to open a financial account for him or her but find one already exists, or the application is denied because of a poor credit history.
- A credit report already exists – someone has already attempted to open a line of credit using this identity
Identity theft could affect your child’s future credit and employment history. If the perpetrator has been arrested for other crimes, those crimes could become associated with your child’s record.
The process of restoring their credit record is a difficult one and the victim must file a police report, but many children are unwilling to report their own parents or they are pressured to not report the family member who committed the identity theft. The average time spent is 14.8 hours (nearly two working days) dealing with the aftermath of identity theft.
Parents are encouraged to check their child’s credit status regularly – you can proactively freeze your child’s credit file so that no one (not even your child) can open new lines of credit in his or her name – be sure to share this information with your estate planner or the person named as guardian in your Will so this can be removed when your child reaches the appropriate age.
How to keep your information secure:
- Don’t disclose personal information such as passwords and PINs when asked to do so by anyone via telephone, fax or even email
- When destroying personal information, either shred or burn it
- Don’t carry unnecessary personal information in your wallet or purse.
- Store personal and financial documentation safely. Always lock it away (e.g., passports)
- Don’t write down PINs and passwords and avoid obvious choices like birth dates and first names.
- Don’t use Internet Cafes or unsecure WiFi (hotels, conference centres etc.) to do your banking
- Use strong passwords for all your accounts
- Change your passwords regularly and never share them with anyone else.
- Verify all requests for personal information and only provide these when there is a legitimate reason to do so.
- Make sure a website is encrypted before you use it for a financial transaction. Typically, you’ll see a picture of a lock in the URL field, and the URL will contain “https,” meaning it’s secure
- Teach your children about safe internet behaviors — including how to spot potential scams and phishing attempts
- Alert the SA Fraud Prevention Service immediately on 0860 101 248 or at www.safps.org.za. if your ID documents are lost or stolen – register for credit and identity theft monitoring and obtain a case number from SAPS