child_ssnThis post comes to us from Anne Livingston, the creator of the KidsPrivacy blog. She is writer and speaker with a passion for teaching parents and kids how to manage life online. Follow her on twitter @kidsprivacy.

When I talk to my kids about what not to post online, I focus primarily on information that would allow a stranger to contact them. Their information is also valuable to identity thieves. Thieves search kids’ social media accounts looking for personal information. They use their information to open fraudulent accounts or attain pieces of ID such as a driver’s license. With a child’s information, they often can impersonate them for years without being detected. According to a study by CyLab at Carnegie Mellon, identity theft is 51 times more likely with children than adults. Recently, Experian conducted a survey to find out what parents know about child identity theft. The survey found that most parents do talk to their kids about sharing information online and, like me, they do so because of concern about their child sharing information online with strangers. Only 18% of parents were concerned with identity theft, however, and although concerned, most (52%) are not taking action to protect their children’s information. The survey found that when parents are aware of the issue they want to take action, but don’t know what to do or where to begin.

Experian brought together a panel of child safety experts to discuss what parents can do to protect their kids’ information. The first step is talking with our kids about what information identity thieves want. For example, most websites ask for a date of birth during sign up, and birthdays are routinely added to social media profiles. What parents and kids may not realize is their birthdate is a key piece of information for identity thieves.

It is important for parents to teach kids to protect their information from thieves. Here are 5 key pieces of information kids should not share publicly online – in social media profiles as well as chat rooms, forums or blogs.

  1. Full Name
  2. Date of Birth
  3. Place of Birth
  4. Address
  5. Pictures of anything with identifying information (new driver’s license, first credit card, etc.)

Besides these 5 key pieces, kids should also avoid sharing information that thieves could use to guess their passwords or verify accounts. For example, if your child is using the dog’s name as their password, they should not post the name on their profile. Same goes for information used to verify accounts. If their social network asks for their mobile number to verify their account, kids should not publicly post their phone number. Finally, one of the best privacy settings is to keep sharing between real world friends and family. Remember, a friend of a friend could be an identity thief.

For more information on children and identify theft, see the Experian paper on Child Identity Theft: A Parenting Blind Spot and Child Identity Theft by the FTC.