Does your Vision for Technology Match Your Child’s?

July 13, 2011

“What would you like your computer or the internet to do that it can’t do right now?” was the question posed to kids ages 12 and under in a global study conducted by international research firm Latitudeo. The results are phenomenal, and beg the question of how in touch are you with where technology can take us?

Among kids ideas were:

  1. Removing the distinction between online and offline. Children across the world imagine technologies that “seamlessly meld online and offline experiences”
  2. Shifting from seeing to interacting.  Nearly 4 in 10 kids imagine immersive experiences in physical spaces (e.g., real or simulated travel) or devices that assisted physical activities (e.g., playing sports)
  3. Ditching the keyboard and mouse. Kids want to interact with technology more intuitively. Of those kids who specified an interface, only half suggested the traditional keyboard/mouse configuration, while 20% explicitly requested verbal/auditory controls, and another 15% wanted touchscreen interfaces.
  4. Humanizing devices. 77% of kids wanted a more dynamic, human-level responsiveness (often anthropomorphized as robots or virtual companions), and 43% drew themselves or another person interacting with their creations, seeing devices as merely an extension of oneself.
  5. Better access to knowledge. Kids envisioned instant access to people, information, and possibilities. One-third of kids invented technologies that would empower users by fostering knowledge such as speaking a different language or learning how to cook.
  6. The Urge to Create.  A quarter of kids’ inventions centered on art or design, envisioning entire platforms for creating games, Web sites, action figures, and so on. Kids’ interest in a host of design fields—industrial, landscape, fashion, Web, and more—reflects the visual richness of the online world, as well as the can-do creative drive that tech encourages.

That’s pretty cool stuff coming from the minds of under-12-year-olds. Now we just have to help them achieve these dreams in an environment that is safe, secure, and protective.



Operation Rescue Busts Online Pedophile Ring with 70,000 Members

March 16, 2011

Once over-hyped as lurking behind every online contact, then dismissed as statistically insignificant, child sexual predators constitute a very real concern, and they are constantly trolling for new victims.

Nothing highlights this more starkly than the news of what is thought to be the world’s largest Internet pedophile ring that operated behind the online forum called ‘’. The bust of this pedophile ring, which may include up to 70,000 members, was announced today by Europol.

Though investigations are still underway, the news report says, “670 suspects have been identified across the world already, 184 arrests made and 230 children safeguarded. The number of victims safeguarded is the highest ever achieved from this type of investigation, and is set to rise even further in the coming weeks.”

Of those arrested, 5 are known to be US citizens. In the UK, the children exploited were between 7 and 14 years of age, and Australian Federal Police commander Grant Edwards said suspects arrested in Australia ranged in age from 19 to 84.

Called ‘Operation Rescue’, the investigation has been underway for over three years, and Europol has brought together law enforcement agents from 13 countries to track offenders on what the report calls “ a truly global scale”. Participating countries include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The website, ‘’ has now been taken down. But according to Europol’s press release it “attempted to operate as a ‘discussion–only’ forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’ of police attention. Having made contact on the site, some members would move to more private channels, such as email, to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused. Computers seized from those arrested have harvested huge quantities of child abuse images and videos.”

As sickening as the topic is to most people, it isn’t illegal to talk about abusing children, and a simple search reveals thousands of websites dedicated to ‘boy love’ and ‘girl love’ – thousands more can be found using similar key word searches.  What is interesting however is that a search on Google for ‘boy love’ doesn’t bring back any purchased ad results, while  the search for ‘girl love’ has several – some appear to be positive, others offering contact. It would be interesting to hear Google’s take on their ad policy for key word phrases such as these.

Why this matters to you

With sexting and cyberbullying being the internet risk topics de jour, there hasn’t been much in the way of focus on the ongoing assault youth face from online pedophiles.

Though far more kids get harmed by schoolyard bullies than get hit by cars – we still go to great lengths to teach youth how to look both ways and follow traffic safety rules. This same pragmatism must be applied to online safety issues as well; we cannot fail to address in a careful and thoughtful way the full scope of potential online issues youth may face and this includes sexual predators.

Some internet safety “experts” have all but dismissed the threat of sexual predators online as a rarity that essentially only involves troubled youth, and have advised that efforts should instead focus on areas like bullying that impact a larger number of victims. This is shockingly poor guidance.  This is not an either/or scenario.

While successful sexual exploitation of a minor met through the internet is far less common than many other forms of abuse, it is not a rare outcome. The potentially horrific and life-long consequences of sexual exploitation demand that focus, education and prevention efforts remain a priority for families, schools, and others who teach youth about online safety.

Another common, though unfortunate, observation is that most of the youth who were solicited online were already experiencing trouble in other aspects of their lives. While this is true, it doesn’t present the larger more accurate picture.

Some youth who have fallen victim to online sexual predators were shockingly ‘normal’ with great grades, strong friendships, and popular. Others have been in trouble at home, at school or with the law multiple times. Some are lonely, vulnerable, questioning their own sexuality, unsupervised, or have already been victims of sexual exploitation.

All youth are more vulnerable at some points than they are at others, and predators, including child sexual predators, are constantly probing online and offline for youth who are in one of those vulnerable moments.

It is essential for parents, teachers and caregivers to candidly discuss with kids and teens how to appropriately engage with others, how to reject inappropriate contact, and how to seek help when needed whether the contact is online or offline.

As you discuss online safety with kids and teens, talk about the full breadth of potential threats, teach what youth can do to stay safer and avoid harm, and assure your children that you will give them your total support if problems arise.

This does not mean scaring children, nor does it mean banning youth from using the internet. In fact, banning youth from social networking or other online activities is likely to backfire and lead to deception. It also places youth at an extremely high level of vulnerability as youth who have been told they can’t use these online tools, can’t turn to you if things go wrong.

Actively engage with your child online, understand who they are interacting with, teach social responsibility, family safety and privacy, and be in tune to changes in their behavior that could indicated issues.

We need the ongoing discussions about cyberbullying and self-exploitation through sexting, but we cannot set aside teaching youth about online sexual exploitation, and other potential areas of risk.

To learn more, here are additional blogs on internet sexual exploitation


6 Tips to Identifying the Real Costs of Virtual Goods

March 14, 2011

Though selling virtual goods isn’t new, marketing these items to kids is. Apple has changed their purchasing policy in response to overwhelming outrage by consumers, and federal and state law enforcement bodies. At issue was the lack of clear notice and information that ‘virtual’ purchases cost real money, and the 15-minute policy that said after a password is entered for a purchase on Apple’s IPhones and IPad devices additional purchases could be made without reentering the password.

The idea behind Apple’s previous policy was to allow users to be able to quickly make several purchases without having to enter their password every time, but it did not foresee the in-app purchase confusion this could lead to.

In practice the old policy meant that if a parent bought a game for their child to play, then handed the device over to their child, purchases could be racked up without the parent’s knowledge or consent, and without the child realizing that the charges weren’t in ‘virtual currency’.

After hearing of exorbitant charges facing families whose children had naively purchased items, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna’s office wrote to Apple in December of last year.  The policy change “is a victory for consumers,” said Paula Selis, senior counsel for State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Our attitude about enforcement is that we are most effective with positive change without litigating, and talk an issue through with a company to affect change.”

McKenna’s office wasn’t the only one to take notice; last month the FTC’s Chairman Jon Leibowitz informed congress that he was looking into Apple’s practices as well as the marketing and delivery of these types of mobile applications. And Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) went so far as to call Apple’s practice deceitful marketing.

Apple isn’t the first company to come under fire for their virtual purchasing policies, nor is this issue a ‘mobile’ problem. Facebook took a beating last fall over ‘Farmville’ an app became hugely popular among users. Kids racked up enormous bills through purchases made on that service as well, sending families into the same kind of purchase shock that Apple’s users now face.

Learn more in my blogs Scamming Users Part of Social Gaming Company Zynga’s business model, Could Facebook Go the Way of MySpace?, and TechCruch’s article Social Games: How the Big Three Make Millions.

Though selling virtual goods isn’t new, marketing these items to kids is

The Smurf’s Village and Farmville have been lightning rod for protests, but the business model of selling games cheaply (or giving them away) and then charging for virtual items within the games or ‘worlds’ is widespread, and far from new.

Back in 2007 when the app-de-jour was Second Life and the buzz was over their “Linden dollars”, companies like Reebok (see example), scrambled to create a presence on the site and market their real products through interactions with consumer’s avatars. What companies discovered however was twofold:

  • While the ‘inhabitants’ of Second Life spent millions of dollars on digital clothes, homes, even perfume (!) for their avatars, they were largely disinterested in using virtual sites to purchase real world products.
  • The tangible tie between Linden dollars and real currency, as well as the lack of kids on the site, largely meant consumers were conscious that they were spending real money for items.

A couple of business model iterations later, the lessons of how to successfully sell things online is much clearer – Virtual goods are best sold in virtual environments while real goods sell best through web versions of real stores.

Game developers have seized this model to make their games enormously profitable – what could be more ideal than making money from digital goods? They don’t cost to ship or store, they aren’t taxed and they don’t rot, and when fashions change, you aren’t stuck with costly inventory.  It turns out that the fable of the Emperors new suit by Hans Christian Andersen was off target; he failed to account for consumer’s desire for entertainment.

The questions that will need answering over the next few months as these issues are fought over are: Did developers deliberately targeted youth with their products? (Given titles like Smurfs’ village, and Farmville it is hard to argue otherwise, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.)  Did they deliberately sidestep the consumer protections in place for products and advertisements targeting youth? And, do new laws and regulations need to be put in place to better protect consumers of all ages, but youth in particular?

In the meantime, here’s what this means to you and your kids

There is nothing wrong with paying for entertainment as long as you understand all of the potential costs, and herein lies the rub. Consumers of all ages are struggling to see the fully burdened costs of online entertainment, and kids have no skills by which to measure the impact. Until better controls are in place, consider the following possible ‘costs’ before purchasing or downloading a game or service:

  1. Identify any financial costs that may be associated with the application. Your review needs to identify any the up-front costs, as well as potential in-app costs. While these should be clearly understandable, until better business practices are developed, or regulation is set in place, the onus is on you to tread carefully. To date, efforts to increase the transparency around real costs has fallen short – many believe the steps Apple has taken to rectify problems will still not be enough.
  2. Does the company behind the application make money off of you through other means? In addition to the actual costs, will you or your child be exposed to advertising while playing? If so, are the types of ads offered ones you feel are appropriate? Are these marketing techniques ones your child understands and knows how to appropriately evaluate?  Does the company resell user information? This question may be impossible to answer, but many of the largest game brands have been caught doing this – see my blog 10 most popular apps that Facebook’s 500m users play or use to share common interests, have been selling user’s information to outside companies
  3. Look for supervisory tools. These should be built into products and give parents the ability to block or limit any potential costs that minors want to (or are) playing.
  4. Consider the ‘opportunity cost’. We all need downtime and fun-time, but if you or your child is going to use the application, what are you/they NOT going to be doing? Work or homework? Exercising? Getting fresh air? Spending time as a family?
  5. Understand the application’s values, do they benefit or ‘cost’ you? Does the game or other application match your personal values? Is it reinforcing the values you want to instill in your child? Is it creating an instant gratification or impulse purchasing pattern?  How commercial is the game – how much can you do for existing cost vs. how quickly do you need to spend more to keep playing or keep it interesting?
  6. Has the application been tested for malware? Just because an application is offered through a web store does not necessarily mean it has been tested for safety, or that it complies with safety guidelines.  Similarly, the number of users on a site is no guarantee the application is secure. Just last week it was discovered that 21 mobile app games downloadable from the Android Marketplace contained malicious code. See my blog More Mobile Apps Caught Inappropriately Collecting User Info and Installing Malware. Identifying which applications are safe and responsible is no simple matter, so follow these three principles: 1) Only download from sites you trust AND that test applications for malware and policy compliance before allowing them on their marketplace. 2) Research the company behind the application. For example, you should feel very confident about the ethical standards behind products built by well-known companies with sterling brands, but if the application is developed by a company that has previously been found to use unethical or malicious practices, or is unknown, you may want to turn away or tread very cautiously.

Once you’ve worked through the answers to these – and any other concerns you may have – you can make an informed choice.


Look Who’s Texting… 0-12yr olds Send/Receive 1,178 Texts a Month; Plus Do You Know Which Apps they Use?

January 17, 2011

We know teens text constantly, but new data from The Nielsen Company suggests their younger siblings (ages 0-to- 12) are catching up.  Sending and receiving an average of 1,178 texts a month, these tykes are positioned to vie with the 18-24 year-olds for second place in text volumes as seen in the table below.

Gender places an additional burden on female fingers as females are 29% more likely to text according to the report.

This explosion in texting comes on top of voice minutes which have remained relatively stable averaging roughly 600- 700 hundred minutes per month between January 2005 and September 2010.

Over this same time period, the use of text messaging shot up from less than 100 a month to more than 600 by the end of 2010. (figures based on MarketingCharts analysis of Nielsen chart).

Nielsen’s data also highlights some other key US Mobile trends:

  • Top 5 cell phones:  Apple iPhone 3GS, Samsung SCH-U450, Motorola Droid, RIM Blackberry 8500 series, and Apple iPhone 4
  • 31% of mobile subscribers have smartphones
  • There are 228 million mobile phone users age 13 and up
  • 36% of mobile subscribers access the internet ( 83.2 million mobile phone web users)
  • 27 – is the average number of apps that smartphone users have on their phones
  • The top 5 mobile video channels are YouTube, Fox, Comedy Central, ESPN, and MTV.

In addition to Nielsen’s findings that the average smartphone has 27 apps downloaded onto it, comes data from Juniper Research that highlights where the expansion of mobile content categories is likely to go – in user generated content, mobile TV, adult content and gambling. (See my blog Mobile Revenues in North America Projected to Jump to $10 Billion by 2015 for more information.

What does this mean for parents?

Increased mobile activity requires increased mobile supervision, and guidance. It’s critical that you talk to your kids about responsible, respectful mobile phone use – including the times of day it’s appropriate to use the phone, and the types of activities you will or won’t allow – including the applications you find appropriate and the number you are willing to pay for.

I’ve written a guide to Using Mobile Phones Safely that can help you consider each feature of your child’s phone and the guidelines and safeguards you feel will be appropriate for these.

If you haven’t already adopted mobile safeguards for your children’s phones, it may be time to consider what family safety protections you may need (often referred to as parental controls). Several family safety companies have tools in place today, and most are ramping up their mobile services even further to meet youth’s needs for protection against malicious users, and inappropriate content.

What this may mean to your phone bill

As part of your conversation with kids and teens, an understanding of the number of text messages they want to send, or are allowed to send, is important to avoiding bill-shock. Families whose youngsters have just began texting, but who did not have a texting plan in place have received phone bills for thousands of dollars.  While there is now federal review of carriers practices, currently this is up to you to monitor. (See my blog Cell Phone ‘Bill Shock’ Remedy; To Little? Too Much? To Early to Tell for more on this issue).

For more information on youth and mobile texting, see my blog Average US Teen Sends or Receives 3,339 Texts a month.


Florida AG’s Office Estimates over 500k Kids ID’s Stolen Each Year

October 4, 2010

Although statistics are not kept on identity theft victims under 18, estimates indicate the crime affects more than 500,000 children nationally each year, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office in an article in the Palm Beach Post.

The article goes on to quote Linda Criddle saying:

Children’s SSNs are highly prized because children have no credit history, said Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance in San Diego. She warns that theft of children’s SSNs is on the rise.

The two primary threats to children’s financial identities are family members, even parents, who want to open a new line of credit, and professional thieves who use computers and public information to find SSNs, Criddle said. They use sophisticated programs to search for the numbers through databases kept by schools, doctors and insurance companies. The criminals then sell the unblemished numbers to people who use them to obtain credit cards and rack up huge debts they will not have to repay.

Criddle offers these suggestions to reduce your child’s risk of financial ID theft:

  • Keep Social Security cards locked up. These don’t belong in wallets or loose in your home where others may come across them.
  • Tightly restrict sharing your child’s SSN. You may be asked to provide your child’s SSN in many circumstances, such as to enroll him or her for a sports team, or at the doctor’s office. However, you do not need to give their SSN – you can show other evidence of age or information that your health care provider needs for billing.
  • Teach your children not to share their SSNs. When they are applying for jobs, at which point they finally do have to share the number, make sure the employer and company are legitimate so the risk of resale is low.
  • When creating a bank account for your child, set up only a savings account and make sure there is no overdraft protection included.
  • Monitor your child’s credit as you do your own. If you wait until you see a red flag, a lot of damage may have occurred, and often you’ll see no red flag at all until your child seeks credit. Running a credit report does introduce some risk, but you can mitigate this by freezing their credit. This way, if the very act of checking your child’s credit history generated a credit file you have squashed the chances for abuse. Unfreeze their credit when they do seek a loan.

To read the full article, click here.


Readeo – a Cool Grandparent Tool Online

September 11, 2010

Sunday is Grandparents day. As you know, I rarely recommend a product or service, so something has to really dazzle me, and show the power for good that the internet represents, for it to happen.

Readeo exceeded that bar. The service’s ability to connect parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc through reading books together and face to face interaction over the internet is just phenomenal. I wish it was there when my kids were small.

This cool service allows you to stay in touch with kids in such a positive and connected way it’s a must for anyone who struggles to maintain a relationship with a child from a distance.

And I’m far from the only person to feel this way about the service; read what others are saying.

When I told Readeo’s Founder and CEO, Coby Neuenschwander, that I wanted to blog about the service, he made YOU an offer you can’t refuse:

Use the checkout code ilookbothways and Readeo will give any new user one month FREE

If you still aren’t sure, consider this: Readeo is running a grandparent challenge – any grandparent who tries their service with a grandchild and doesn’t like it (technology errors notwithstanding since we can’t control their internet speed or hardware) will receive $100.

In their own words, here’s the philosophy and functionality behind Readeo:

Many of us spend a lot of time away from children we love. As a result…, we set out to create a special experience that you can have with a special child from anywhere.

Through our patent-pending product, you can share story time with a child from anywhere as long as you both have high speed Internet and a webcam. We call it BookChatting and it has made the distance seem much shorter when we’re away. You might still miss… [your child/grandchild].. but you will hear “can we read another one dad, mom, or grandma, or grandpa, or uncle, or friend, or whoever you are?” and it will be the best thing you do all day—maybe all week.

While people use BookChat to connect with children from a distance, many people also use our site to discover books and read with children when they’re together as well. We have been lucky to have some of the best children’s book publishers believe in us and in our vision of keeping families connected. We add books to our site frequently and Jenny Brown, our editor and former children’s book reviews editor for Publisher’s Weekly, hand picks each book on the site.

Their selection of books to share is strong and growing, and the way Readeo works makes it far better than trying to accomplish the same, or even similar interaction over Skype

Do yourself, your child, or your parents a favor, try it. Give it to celebrate Grandparents Day.

[Note: I do not accept funding from this, or any company, for this website. My views and recommendations are entirely my own.]


Kids and Financial ID Theft; a Growing Issue

September 11, 2010

Stealing children’s social security numbers (SSNs) to use or sell is not new, but it is becoming more widespread. The problem is expected to get worse before it gets better, according to the Associated Press.

Financial identity theft has grown into a multibillion-dollar problem, and at least 7% of the cases that are reported target children’s identities. The actual number of child victims may actually be much higher, as the theft of a child’s financial identity is often not discovered until the child applies for credit.

It is precisely because kids aren’t seeking credit that make theft of their Social Security numbers so lucrative. The allure of an untainted SSNs (one with no credit problems) is in the opportunity it represents for creating fake lines of credit and charge up high debts.

How kids financial ID theft happens

There are two primary threats to kids’ financial identities. The first comes from family members looking for a new line of credit. They steal their children’s, nieces’ or nephews’, even younger siblings’ identities, primarily to use themselves to create new lines of credit.

The second threat comes from criminal businesses that use computers and publicly available information to find Social Security numbers for which no line of credit has been established. You may wonder how criminals steal numbers that aren’t in any system, but that’s the beauty of it. They don’t have to know whose SSN they’re stealing, they just have to find SSNs that are legitimate and have no credit history.

The way these criminals collect the SSNs is tied to the antiquated method by which SSNs are generated.

SSN’s have three sections; the first three numbers represent the state in which the SSN was issued (after 1972 they represent the zip code). Anything between 001-003 and before 1972 for example, is issued in New Hampshire.

The second set of numbers in the social security string represents a specific window of time during which the number was generated, quickly identifying the age of the legitimate SSN recipient.

The last four digits are the only random numbers – and ironically those are the ones you’re asked to provide most frequently.  Knowing how SSNs are created, criminals can use a computer program anticipate the next set of numbers to be generated, then they can test these to find which are legitimate.

Criminals then take these SSNs and sell them to people who want credit they can use to accumulate huge debts they won’t have to repay. These numbers sell for anywhere between a few hundred to several thousand dollars apiece.

“When a creditor gets a request in with a valid SSN, one that they can confirm has been issued, they don’t get information telling them to whom the number was issued,” says Linda Foley, of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), an organization that offers counseling and resources to identity theft victims.

“That’s not information Social Security gives out.  Nor is it information that the three credit reporting agencies have access to.”

From that point, it is easy for the thief to put down his name, a date of birth, and a reasonable excuse for why he his Social Security number had been issued recently.

Once the purchaser of the stolen SSN defaults on their loans, the credit line is shut down and that SSN is no longer of use – but serial SSN thieves simply buy a new SSN and continue running up debt. Assistant US Attorney Linda Marshall from Kansas City states, “If people are obtaining enough credit by fraud, we’re back to another financial collapse. We tend to talk about it [identity theft fraud] as the next wave.”

Because SSNs with no credit line often come from young children who have no money of their own, these numbers are ideal candidates for opening a new, unblemished line of credit. Add to that the low likelihood that anyone is monitoring that child’s financial identity, and crooks have a winning combination.

Julia Jensen, an FBI agent in Kansas City, recently discovered a ring of criminals using public searches to identify SSNs without credit lines while investigating a mortgage-fraud case. “The back door is wide open,” she said, comparing the businesses that sell the numbers to drug dealers.

“There’s good stuff and bad stuff,” she said, referring to the value of a stolen SSN. “Bad stuff is a dead person’s Social Security number. High-quality is buying a number the service has checked to make sure no one else is using it.”

Unfortunately, experts say, it’s nearly impossible to prevent the fraud because it’s so easily concealed and targets such vulnerable people.  “There’s no way to protect your child completely,” says Foley.

The difficulty in protecting children’s SSNs and financial identity is multifaceted:

  1. Financial ID thieves are using sophisticated programs to search for dormant SSNs through databases kept by schools, doctors, and insurance companies, which typically require children’s Social Security numbers be provided.  Rapidly evolving methods used for selling the numbers make tracking this kind of theft particularly difficult.
  2. Credit issuers typically do not keep track of the age of Social Security number holders, so they cannot alert families when a child’s number is being used – something Foley’s organization has been trying to change since 2005, and a protection she considers vital for preventing child identity theft on a large scale.\
  3. Even parents who routinely check their own credit information rarely think to check reports for their children, particularly if the children have not yet begun to work. But if a SSN is compromised, criminals can run up tremendous charges in a child’s name.
  4. The methods and locations used to sell SSNs change frequently, and may be camouflaged under legal transactions. Some of these sketchy companies have impressive, high-tech websites. Others advertise on sites like Craigslist.

The impact of financial ID theft on a child

It takes time and a lot of work to restore a financial reputation, and the repercussions of a damaged credit score can impact a child for life. As they seek loans for college, cars, and homes, they may struggle to qualify and be permanently subject to  higher interest and mortgage rates.

Someone has to pay the debts accrued against that SSN. Sometimes it’s the victim or the victim’s family that pays. More often it’s the businesses that sold whatever goods were purchased that get stuck with the costs, which of course get passed on in the form of higher prices for all their customers.

Reduce your child’s risk of financial ID theft

  • Keep Social Security cards locked up. These don’t belong in wallets or loose in your home where others may come across them.
  • Tightly restrict sharing your child’s social security number. You may be asked to provide your child’s SSN in many circumstances like to enroll them for a sports team, or at your doctors office.  However, you do not need to give their SSN, you can show other evidence of age or information that your health care provider needs for billing.
  • Teach your child not to share their SSN. When applying for a job, make sure the employer and company are legitimate so the risk of resale is low.
  • When creating a bank account for your child, only set up a savings account and make sure there is no overdraft protection included.
  • Monitor your child’s credit as you do your own. If you wait until you see a red flag, a lot of damage may have occurred, and often you’ll see no red flag at all until your child seeks credit. Running a credit report does introduce some risk, but you can mitigate this by freezing their credit. This way, if the very act of checking your child’s credit history generated a credit file you have squashed the chances for abuse. Unfreeze their credit when they do seek out a loan.

Red flags that your child’s financial ID has been stolen

There is no silver bullet to protect your child from ID theft, but there are some red flags:

  • Be suspicious if your child receives any unsolicited credit offers in your child’s name, or notices from debt collectors.
  • Or Someone who has access to the child’s SSN has sudden prosperity
  • Or if you get a  notice from the IRS saying the SSN number you used on your tax return (or on their tax return) is a duplicate number.
  • Or your insurance company denies a claim for your child because they have already covered the procedure.
  • Or the bank notifies you when you go to establish a savings account for your child, that an account using that SSN already exists.
  • Or you receive a warrant for a traffic violation for a child without a drivers license.
  • Or your child is denied government assistance because records show they are already receiving benefits
  • You get a request for a job verification when your child has never had a job

If your child’s credit has been compromised, take immediate action

Report any suspected theft of your child’s financial identity. Use the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site to find and follow the steps needed to report fraud. Or call their toll-free identity theft hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). THEN call Social Security. You may also want to visit the ITRC’s website for facts and information, or call its hotline at (888) 400-5530.

What’s happening to reduce the risks

The non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center has proposed a solution to the growing problem of illegal use of children’s SSNs: the creation of a Minors 17-10 Database, which would include not only the Social Security numbers, but also first and last names and birth month and year to credit organizations, departments of motor vehicles, and other institutions that require a Social Security number for background checks. The information would be kept on until the child is 17 years, 10 months old. This age was chosen, Foley said, because this is the time when teenagers are putting in paperwork for student loans and other credit forms.