As you get ready to send your children off to school, you’ve got a lot on your mind. But did you know that in addition to worrying about healthy school lunches, soccer schedules, and back to school supplies, you should be thinking about protecting your child’s identity?

Many parents don't realize just how vulnerable their children are to identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as many as 400,000 children may already be victims of identity theft. To make matters worse, the number of complaints has increased by 78 percent over the past several years, making children the fastest growing segment of identity theft victims.

Children and teenagers are prime targets for identity thieves for a number of reasons. They typically have clean credit reports, making it easy for scammers to take out loans in their names. They are also more likely than any other age group to post personally identifying information on social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, which are often targeted by fraudsters looking for personal information. And because most children don’t use their Social Security numbers until they’re old enough to apply for a job or loan, identity theft could go undetected for years.

Fortunately, by arming your children with knowledge and common sense, you can help protect their children’s identity. The following tips will drastically reduce your child’s risk of identity theft:

  1. Don’t reveal your child’s Social Security number unless you have to. Just because your child’s school or Little League team asks for a Social Security number doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Ask if you can use another method of identification.
  2. Check your child's credit report every year. The three major credit-reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—now give you one free copy per year. A child typically doesn’t have a report on file, so any activity could indicate that he or she is a victim of identity theft. Equifax (800) 525-6285; Experian (888) 397-3742; or TransUnion (800) 680-7289.
  3. Teach your child not to give out his or her personal information, especially on MySpace or other social networking sites. Sharing too much information on a public site can be dangerous, as identity thieves can misuse any type of personal information.
  4. Be suspicious of any marketing letters, collection notices, or pre-approved credit offers addressed to your child in the mail. These could be red flags that your child’s identity is being misused.
  5. In the event your child's identity was stolen, ask the credit bureaus to add a victim statement to the child's credit report. To prevent further damage, consider enrolling your child in an identity protection service, which will place fraud alerts on his or her credit reports and do several other things to fight identity theft.

Because child identity theft is becoming more common, it is important that parents take precautionary measures to prevent this crime or at least catch it before it does too much damage. If you are proactive when it comes to protecting your child’s identity, it is much less likely that they will have to experience the trauma and inconvenience of identity theft.