Consumer Comeback Blog

Back-to-School Forms Can Expose Children to Identity Theft

Consumers working to improve their own financial health understand the importance of protecting themselves from identity theft, but what about the kids? Back-to-school time not only requires budgeting for new clothes, shoes, backpacks and supplies, but parents are also faced with a flood of forms in the first week.

There was a time when anyone could fill out paperwork without the fear of privacy breaches, but those days are long gone, even at your child’s school. The Federal Trade Commission warns parents to be aware that in the wrong hands, school registration, health and emergency contact forms can put your child’s financial future at risk.

“A criminal can use a child’s Social Security number to get government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, or rent a place to live,” the FTC says in a press release . “Most parents and guardians don’t expect their child to have a credit file, and rarely order or monitor a child’s credit report. Child identity theft may go undetected for years – until the child applies for a job or loan and discovers problems in a credit report.”

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was enacted to protect your family’s personal information by guarding the privacy of student education records and allowing parents to opt out of sharing contact information in a directory.

To further minimize any threat of identity theft to your child, the FTC recommends:

  • Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
  • Pay attention to materials sent home with your child, through the mail or by email, that ask for personal information. Look for terms like “personally identifiable information,” “directory information,” and “opt-out.” Before you reveal any personal information about your child, find out how it will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.
  • Read the annual notice schools must distribute that explains your rights under FERPA.
  • Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. Student directory information can include your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. FERPA requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy, and give you the right to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties. If you don’t opt-out, directory information may be available not only to the people in your child’s class and school, but also to the general public.
  • Ask for a copy of your school’s policy on surveys. The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) gives you the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.
  • Consider programs that take place at the school but aren’t sponsored by the school. Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren’t formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have web sites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations, and make sure you understand how your child’s information will be used and shared.