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Back to school: Tips for maintaining your child’s safety

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Over the last decade, technology has become a critical educational tool for schools and institutions. Blue lined paper and yellow #2 pencils are now used alongside online portals and learning platforms, enabling students to collaborate, submit assignments, track grades and access resources.

While the use of technology has many educational benefits, there are also risks to be aware of. Ensuring your children understand the importance of maintaining their digital safety and security while engaging in school and social activities is important to avoid child identity theft.

Why schools are targeted for cyberattacks

There are a variety of reasons why cybercriminals target schools and educational institutions for their attacks. One reason is the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) that they hold, both from students and employees. In addition to names, addresses and other identifiers, many schools include valuable financial information due to student loan records or financial assistance requests.

Schools are also seen as a relatively easy target since their cybersecurity defenses are seen as being less effective. The IT support staff for many school districts can be stretch thin because of the number of locations and devices they need to protect — and those professionals may not have the knowledge or resources needed to counter today’s sophisticated cyberattacks.

As a result, the education sector can be a prime target for data breaches and other cybercrime.

Why child identity theft happens

Cybercriminals frequently target children for identity theft, which is why the PII collected at schools can be such an attractive target. The lack of credit history or financial accounts means a child’s identity can easily be co-opted and abused for fraud. A child’s stolen identity also can go undetected for a long time because parents often do not monitor that information.

Today, 1 out of every 80 children are affected by child identity fraud, with losses to fraud and identity theft costing U.S. families nearly $680 million in 2022.

Here are a few things you can do to help keep your kids safe while they are at school — from preschool through college.

Preschool

At this age, the main thing is for parents to be aware of the information they are sharing about their child. Many identity thieves are looking for Social Security numbers (SSNs), so be careful where you share it.

Don’t be afraid to question anyone who asks for your child’s SSN as you enroll them in school or extracurriculars. As you fill out paperwork for preschool, enroll your child in new activities or take them to the doctor, you may be repeatedly asked for their SSN. Ask why the Social Security information is needed and how it will be used: You will likely find that many organizations include the SSN request as a formality and that it is not mandatory.

Elementary School

Elementary school is a great time to begin teaching your child the basics of keeping their identities safe. Explain to them why it is very important that they do not share their personal information with strangers or friends from school, and not especially online.

There will likely be a learning curve as younger students begin to use more technology in the classroom, so make sure they know they can always ask their teacher or a parent if they have questions on what information should be kept private.

Middle School

As your child begins to use the internet more and creates online accounts of their own, it is essential to teach them about online safety. A great practice is teaching them how to use and create secure passwords. Passwords are meant to keep thieves out of their online accounts, and they need to be complicated. When helping your child brainstorm strong passwords, use these criteria:

  • At least 12-14 characters long
  • Include letters, numbers and symbols
  • Don’t use any private information (name, birthday, hometown, phone number, etc.)

Since they need unique passwords for all of their accounts and devices, it can be hard for kids to remember their login credentials. A good option would be to have a password manager for the family, where they can save and access their various passwords.

High School

By high school, many kids have smartphones and may be active on social media websites. Now is the time to remind them that the internet is forever and anything they post online could be found later.

Help them to utilize privacy settings and remind them to never exchange any personal information in posts or instant messages – especially with strangers. Oversharing on social media can seem common, but being extra cautious can be the difference between identity safety and an identity crime. Ensure they are aware that private information can be posted without them realizing it, whether that’s an address in a photo’s background or a driver’s license or debit card on their desk as they take a selfie.

College

By the time your child is heading off to college, they’re hopefully well-versed in online safety and privacy. However, they may be responsible for accounts and data that are far more sensitive — such as financial accounts or student loan information. Remind them to take this responsibility seriously, and ensure they have secure passwords and multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all these sensitive accounts.

Keeping children’s identity safe at school

If you suspect that identity thieves may have targeted your child, TransUnion can help you. Simply get started by filling out a Child Identity Theft Inquiry form.