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Child Identity Theft Linked to Mobile Devices

Matt Cullina

About 16,000 children suffered identity theft in 2012, according to Federal Trade Commission data. The growing use of mobile devices and technology among children and teenagers has made them more vulnerable to online identity theft.

“Kids are more connected now,” Michelle Tabler of the Better Business Bureau Alaska told NBC affiliate KTUU. ”They have iPhones now, they’re on the web, they’re using the Internet, they’re using iPads, they’re shopping online and they’re buying electronic equipment, so it’s affecting them.”

The misconception that adults are the only victims of identify theft still exists, the source said, making children easier targets for criminals. People can steal Social Security numbers or other personal information from children and use it to open credit cards in their name. A main problem with this is the child or parent won’t discover their credit history has been destroyed by a criminal until their son or daughter applies for a credit card later in life.

This sort of damage can affect the rest of the child’s life, Tabler said.

“It affects everything you do,” she told KTUU.  “It’s essential that you keep your identity secure.”

Others have also pointed to the lack of credit monitoring among children as a main reason criminals target the young consumers. Children or their parents rarely monitor their credit history, the Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis., reported. Identity thieves use stolen information from children to apply for government benefits or loans or even rent an apartment, the source said.

Protecting Your Child’s Information

Parents should play an active role in keeping their child’s personal information safe. They should shred all documents that contain the child’s Social Security number and never carry around their Social Security card in their wallet, the Post-Crescent reported.

Parents should also talk to their children about the need to keep personal information off social networking sites and to avoid downloading free games on the Internet, as many applications contain malware, the source said. Sharing music on computers and other devices can also accidentally leak private files or information.

Use of Mobile Devices Increasing

The hours children spend on mobile devices is increasing each year. Fifty-three percent of mobile device owners spend more time playing games on these devices than they did in 2011, a new report from The NPD Group showed. Those aged 12 to 17 are the group that is spending the most time gaming on mobile devices, using smartphones and tablets to play games an average of seven hours a week. In 2011, they were spending five hours a week gaming on these devices, according to the report.

“Kids embrace change, adopting new devices and technologies, for the experience of gaming and accessing other entertainment content, and it is critical to understand the current mindset of the highly engaged 2- to 17-year-old gamer,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said. “Kids are engaged with mobile devices as less expensive tablets and an increasing amount of hand-me-down phones create greater accessibility to these platforms than before.”

The age kids start using mobile devices to game is also dropping, Venturebeat reported. In 2011, the average age was 9. It is now 8, the NPD report showed. The group expect that age to continue to fall, with younger children using smartphones and tablets.

As younger children turn to technology for entertainment, parents will need to step up their monitoring of the mobile devices their kids are using and what they are doing on them. Children, too, will need to be taught how to be safe online and what information to avoid sharing over the Internet to protect child identity theft.

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