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Is your child's identity protected?

The parents of teenagers spend many hours teaching them how to drive safely, discussing the importance of an education and warning about the dangers of illegal drugs. Now they can add identity theft to the list of items meriting special attention.

Identity theft is an ever-increasing threat for all consumers, but children and teenagers make particularly good targets. That is because they have "unblemished" credit records (indeed, they have no credit records at all!)

Once their identity is stolen, it can go undetected for months, if not years, and teenagers and children are likely to be ignorant to any signs that their identity has been compromised.

What can parents to do protect their teens and pre-teens? The key to shielding your kids from identity theft is to protect their personal information and teach them to carefully question anyone who requests their Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number or other personal financial information.

Here are some pointers for future reference:

Schools, athletic teams and pediatric offices routinely request children's Social Security numbers for registration purposes. Before giving that information, always ask: Is this required? By whom? If you do not like the answer, then decline to provide the data.

Don't carry your child's Social Security card in your wallet or purse, and do not permit your teen to do so either.

When your teen applies for his or her driver's license, make certain that they do not permit their Social Security number to be used as the driver license identification number.

When your teen opens their first checking account, discuss how important it is to safeguard their checks and their banking account number and advise them to carefully monitor their accounts for suspicious activities. Do the same when they apply for their first credit card.

Limit the copies of your child's birth certificate that you give out. If copies are requested in order to allow your children to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, ask who will have access to the information and where it will be stored.

Talk to your teen about why he or she should not give out personal financial information in response to phone calls from telemarketers or e-mails from unknown individuals or businesses. Be sure to stress the importance of safeguarding information on the Internet.

Advise your teen to protect their credit cards and checkbook at all times. Only carry what is absolutely necessary in their wallets or purses. They should not take their credit cards or checkbooks with them when they go out partying, for instance.

If your teen is headed off to college, discuss the importance of safeguarding financial documents, bank account statements, credit cards and other personal records in their dorm room or apartment. Roommates, friends and casual visitors can have "prying eyes."

Check your child's credit report annually for any unauthorized accounts and requests for credit.

Some warning signs of identity theft include pre-approved credit card offers arriving in your child's name; unfamiliar bank, credit card or other financial statements that are in your child's name; and/or collection agency notifications or calls in your child's name.

If you believe your child's identity may have been stolen, contact one of the three major credit bureaus, immediately dispute any bills with fraudulent charges and visit the ID Theft Resource Center on the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov.

If you have any questions, contact Capt. Amer Mahmud, 6th Air Mobility Wing assistant staff judge advocate at 828-4421. (Courtesy of 6th AMW Legal Office)

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