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Identity and tax thieves don't discriminate by age, targeting both youngsters and the elderly

School children

Classes, from Kindergarten to high school to college, are or about to be in session across much of the United States.

That means parents can breathe a sigh of relief now that schools and teachers will once again add structure to their children's lives.

But the beginning of the school year also prompts a new parental concern: their youngsters' privacy.

No age limit for ID theft: Identity thieves don't set age limits on the people whose lives they try to steal.

When a young person's identity is stolen, it sometimes takes longer to discover since most kids aren't involved in transactions, like paying bills or making credit card purchases, that often alert folks to the crime.

And since most young people don't file tax returns, a child's identity is perfect for a criminal looking to file a fraudulent tax return seeking a fake refund.

That's why the Federal Trade Commission has issued the following six tips to help you safeguard your child's personal information, whether your son or daughter is in pre-school or about to finish college.

  1. Protect your child's Social Security number (SSN). Don't carry your child's Social Security card with you, and don't share it unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it's necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits.
  2. Know your rights under FERPA. The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records. FERPA requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy. It also gives you the right to opt out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.
  3. Limit what kids share online. Teach kids not to post their name, address or full date of birth on social media. The FTC publication Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online has more tips for talking with your children about online safety. It offers practical tips and ideas for getting the conversation started about social networking, privacy, mobile devices, computer security and dealing with cyberbullying.
  4. Use strong passwords on smartphones, tablets or laptops. Teach your youngsters the importance of changing passwords and not sharing them. This is especially important for college students in a dorm or other shared living space.
  5. Check whether your child has a credit report. As you child nears his or her 16th birthday, find out whether he or she has a credit report. You can call Equifax at (800) 525-6285 and Experian at (888) 397-3742 or email TransUnion at childidtheft@transunion.com. If you find a credit report in your child's name — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — by checking early you'll have plenty of time to correct the record before your child applies for a job, applies for a car or college tuition loan or needs to rent an apartment.
  6. Use a shredder. Shred all documents with your child's personal information before throwing them away.
Document-shredding-infographic_Federal-Trade-Commission
Click image for a look at the FTC's full document-shredding infographic.

Older ID theft victims, too: As I noted earlier, identity thieves don't discriminate by age when they are seeking someone's life to steal. And another prime target of these crooks and scam artists is older people.

In fact, my octogenarian mother called me this morning concerned about a message she got. The reception on her cell phone was not good — and neither is her hearing — and it was cut off before completion so she didn't get all the info the caller tried to leave.

She did know, though, that someone could be facing jail time if they didn't call back the number left on her voice mail. She was concerned that this person would be in bigger trouble than they already apparently were if she didn't alert him or her and she wanted my help in trying to do just that.

Little did my trusting and eager-to-help mom know, but she was the caller's intended target.

The message she partially received was the pervasive Internal Revenue Service agent impersonation phone scam.

Despite shutting down the scam's home base in India a couple of years ago and this summer sentencing 24 participants to time in U.S. federal prisons, the tax scam is still making the rounds.

Look out for Social Security, Medicare schemes: So, too, are false Medicare and Social Security advertisements. These are placed, warns the Social Security Administration, by scammers who target the older audiences seeking information on these federal programs.

These unscrupulous advertisers offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly at no cost from Social Security.

The services that these crooks are trying to sell include getting a:

  • Corrected Social Security card showing a person's married name;
  • Social Security card to replace a lost card;
  • Social Security statement; and
  • Social Security number for a child.

If you receive misleading information about Social Security, send the complete ad, including the envelope, to:

Office of the Inspector General Fraud Hotline
Social Security Administration
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235

And if you, your children or an older relative is ever a victim of identity theft, check out this blog post on what to do and/or go to IdentityTheft.gov to find out what steps to take.

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