Every day, criminals scour the internet for personal information they can use to commit fraud and identity theft. In this digital age, individuals need to take steps to protect their privacy and information from fraudsters.

This is as true for children as it is for adults, as kids can be victims of identity theft well before they reach adulthood. Social media can be a valuable trove of information for identity thieves looking to assume the identity of children.

Sharing too much information about your kids on social media platforms can actually leave them more vulnerable.

How Thieves Can Use Social Media to Gain Information

Proud parents who came of age using social media may not think twice about sharing comments or photos of their kids. It’s a convenient way to keep friends and family up to date, no matter where they are.

But when you share information about your kids, you are creating an online footprint that your child has little to no control over. And some of the information you share can be valuable to identity thieves.

Your child’s name, age and birth date are three key pieces of information that can be used for fraud. Identity thieves can troll social media platforms for public posts that give them clues to these pieces of information. Even restricted posts could be used or sold by an unscrupulous friend or family member.

For example, a post about your newborn baby could clue an identity thief onto your child’s name and birth date.

The Consequences of Identity Theft for a Child

Most forms of identity theft require a Social Security number. But if a criminal has already accessed your child’s SSN, they can fill in the rest of the pieces from social media to open fraudulent accounts in your child’s name. With synthetic identity theft, thieves may combine certain bits of information about your child with falsified information to create a fake identity using your child’s SSN.

Identity theft of a child can go undetected for years. Most parents don’t think to check their child’s SSN, and the child can’t apply for credit until they’re 18. Once your child has a credit check for a loan, credit card or apartment lease they may discover his or her SSN has been compromised.

While the victim won’t be held legally responsible for financial losses caused by identity theft, they may need to spend months or even years cleaning up the mess and regaining control of his or her SSN. This can involve a lot of red tape and even out-of-pocket expenses.

How to Avoid Oversharing on Social Media

Be mindful when posting pictures or talking about your kids online, especially in public social media forums. Keep in mind that even if your posts are private, friends and family can potentially use your child’s information.

Check and customize the privacy policies and settings of any website you use. You may be able to keep photos restricted only to specific individuals, for example. But in general, you may want to consider the implications of sharing photos and information about your children before they can consent.

It’s a good idea to hold back from sharing too much information about your child, including their full name and birth date. Even a happy birthday post could clue an identity thief onto your child’s birth date.

Always know what information is collected by the websites you use. Under federal law, websites must get a parent’s permission before they collect data from children under the age of 13.

Monitor Their Online Behavior and Teach Best Practices

Once your child is online, it’s a good idea to be aware of their online habits and help kids avoid sharing private information or visiting dangerous websites. You can act as a copilot as your child learns to navigate the web and use software to monitor their online activity.

Make sure to teach your kids good privacy habits, including:

  • Avoiding sharing names, phone numbers, addresses, passwords and other personal information
  • Avoiding clicking links or opening attachments from unverified sources
  • And never message with strangers.

Remember, the information your children share online can come back to haunt them even if it doesn’t lead to identity theft. Pictures or comments can be tied to your child’s name and reputation forever. Make sure your child understands the information they share online has real life consequences.