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How to protect kids from ID theft and social media fraud.

From playing games on apps to streaming favorite shows, to connecting with friends on social media, kids spend a lot of time with their online devices. Unfortunately, criminals view children as easy targets for online fraud. Common scams include stealing personal information to open fake accounts, draining bank accounts, or selling the information on the dark web. The crimes may go undetected until the child is older and applies for their first credit card or files a tax return.

“The biggest factor driving the increase in child identity theft is that it’s incredibly easy and the chances of scammers getting caught are next to none,” says Catherine Riebschlager, Fraud Investigator Lead, Commerce Bank.

For parents, being aware of this growing crime and knowing some protective steps to take can help reduce the chances of fraud. Riebschlager notes that parents should start by assuming that their kids are going to be approached by strangers online. “The scammers may tell your child that they’re a friend of their friend, so kids should always confirm that before interacting with someone they don’t know,” she advises.

Start with a discussion about fraud and how to stay safe online

  • Talk to kids about the online sites they use. Review the privacy settings on each platform they’re active on and encourage your kids to alert you if they see something suspicious.
  • Educate kids about fraud and identity theft by sharing examples of online scams and explaining how they work. Common scams to be aware of (and avoid) include phishing, anything offering easy money, freebies or deals that sound too good to be true. Some scammers may try to gain access to personal information through fake contests or impersonating a celebrity. Teach your kids how to confirm sources before clicking any links or downloads.
  • Encourage your kids not to share any personal information online with someone they’ve never met in person.
  • Encourage kids to use a social profile or gaming nickname instead of their real name.

Additional steps parents can take to help keep kids safe online

  • Consider creating family guidelines for device use, including limiting and monitoring screen time or allowing younger kids online only under parental supervision. Encourage ongoing communication, especially if you have teens, since it can be a delicate balancing act staying aware of what they’re doing online and giving them the independence they crave.
  • Don’t allow your kids to make credit card transactions online and don’t save your credit card information in your child’s online accounts.
  • Protect all digital devices in your household by installing antivirus software and ensuring that updates are current. Be sure to password-protect the devices and help your kids create secure passwords for their online accounts.
  • Encourage kids to avoid accessing their online accounts using public Wi-Fi, which is less secure.

Riebschlager also urges parents to avoid oversharing on social media. “Many parents and grandparents are quick to share photos and information about their kids’ and grandkids’ activities, like birthday parties and extracurricular events, complete with location details,” she adds. This type of access can give scammers a head start toward finding other bits of information that helps them create a fake identity.

Red flags to watch for that could indicate child identity theft

“Scammers often attempt to steal a child’s Social Security number and use it to create new [fake] synthetic cards, usually made from different pieces of information,” explains Riebschlager. Warning signs can include getting mail in your child’s name for bills, pre-approved credit offers, or a notice from a collection agency or the IRS. A child may even by denied government benefits because their Social Security number is already being used.

Other warning signs that could indicate fraud include online or in-app purchases you don’t recognize or if your child discovers that passwords to their online accounts suddenly don’t work.

What to do if you suspect your child is a victim of fraud

Riebschlager says it’s important to check your child’s credit as well as your own. “Most young children should not have a credit history or a credit report under their Social Security number. If something shows up, freeze their credit immediately, and take steps to correct the errors and remove the fraudulent accounts.” This needs to be done with each of the three credit bureaus, she adds.

In addition, parents should report all compromised accounts to the platform or hosting company, alert all impacted financial institutions and file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.

“It can be time consuming for a parent to repair their child’s stolen identity, but it’s important to act quickly,” says Riebschlager. She adds it’s a good idea to sign up for suspected fraud alerts on both kid and parent accounts, pay attention to the payment methods kids use when they’re online and monitor those accounts carefully.

Helpful resources

These websites offer additional tips to help protect personal information as well as advice on what to do if someone steals your child’s identity.

At Commerce Bank, we understand that keeping everyone in the family safe online is a top priority. Commerce Bank customers can sign up for identity theft services, including Commerce ID Recover and Commerce ID Monitor, which provide extra protection for your financial accounts. If you have questions or concerns about how to prevent online fraud, visit your nearest branch or contact us today.

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