Another institution you mention in your book as contributing to the child identity-theft crisis is the school system. Are schools taking enough precautions to protect a student's personal information?
The school systems do a fantastic job of educating children, but they're not police officers, and I think it's incumbent upon law enforcement to educate teachers of their role in this process. For example, walk into a typical elementary school classroom and you'll see the children's names and their birthdays so that the classroom can celebrate them. You may see journals containing their name, address, and date of birth left out on their desks. There are a lot of things that have not been modernized that need to change. We need to make sure all of the school employees are trained and all of the classrooms are designed to protect the children's personal information.
What online safeguards can parents put in place for their child if they're trying to build a wall of defense for their email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts?
A lot of times when you first sign up [for a website], they want to know your date of birth. I would encourage for children to either to not give their true date of birth or to not give it at all, if possible—don't just write off that kind of information. You can also give away similar information in pictures, so kids should be careful of what they have on those sites.
What are some ways people steal a child's identity that most parents haven't heard of?
I have a chapter devoted to what's called "the lobby listener." Go to a doctor's office and you go up to reception and they'll ask for your child's name, date of birth, address, ailment of why they're there, and sometimes their Social Security number. If I'm sitting in the room and I see this happen, quite often what I do is I'll write down the information I hear and then walk up to the person and tell them how someone would be able to steal their child's identity with this information.
Record-keeping is also a big one. Whether you go to a school's lobby or a doctor's office, you walk in and probably see records behind the receptionist. If someone wants to break into an establishment, it's a great location and they don't even have to physically steal anything. All they have to do is break in, copy the information, and leave. Any place that keeps documents on children out in the open like that is a high-risk avenue for identity theft.
Naturally a lot of parents panic when they find out their child's identity has been stolen. In your book, you recommend while they work with the police, they should try to not to be "annoying" but persistent throughout the investigation. What are your suggestions on how to do that?
First off, be organized and be helpful. I suggest people create a journal, which is basically a record-keeping system of who you have contacted, what the conversation was, what their contact information was in case the police want to follow up, and the documents you receive need to be organized. Being well-organized will make the police think you can help them solve this crime. The more a parent can do to help the police put the puzzle pieces back together, the more successful the investigation is going to be.
Parents also want to know what progress the police make—it helps a lot of them calm their nerves to know that the case is being taken seriously. They should talk to the investigator about when they can get updates—when they can expect that next phone call—not when they can expect the case will be solved.
How would you feel if your child's identity was stolen?
I would feel like I failed to educate them in some way. I'd feel like it was my fault.