Blog

Protect Your Kids’ School Data Without Locking Yourself Out

august 09, 2021 | internet security
Student Privacy without locking yourself out of the loop

This might be your child’s first year of Kindergarten or their final college year. It doesn’t matter. Student admissions, registrations, and activities demand a lot of each child’s private data, and hackers know that very well. Schools and universities are high-value targets, so you should know how they guard your child’s data. Often the answer can surprise you since educators are in the business of sharing data, not locking it up.

Each education milestone in your child’s life brings risks and pitfalls. Learn all you can about ID theft involving kids, school data breaches, ransomware, and other hacks that can siphon off your child’s private data in an instant. It will be time well spent.

Earlier Education

First-time parents with a preschooler or 1st grade student may be stunned by the scope of data schools collect. Some details are needed, but others are not. Be selective with what you share. Ask yourself if private data is required before filling in the blanks or leaving those lines blank.

Social Security Numbers (SSN) are a top request. It’s best to decline these demands whenever possible. Years ago, doctors, dentists, school principals and other care providers required your child’s SSN on forms. That was before the Age of Identity Theft, which we all live in today. If the data’s really needed, someone can track you down after registration to make a case for getting your child’s sensitive, 9-digit number.

An SSN is probably the most critical data point each of us needs to guard throughout life so protect your child’s well. Younger kids can experience massive child identity theft without your knowledge. Their particulars are valued for synthetic identity theft too.

When college applications come around, remember that some institutions won’t consider your student for scholarships without that SSN.

You won’t need a FERPA release or a PoA for your elementary or high school kids unless they are already18. The federal law also gives parents and students an opt-out if they don’t want their contact information shared in a school directory or other documents like event programs.

Most schools provide an online student portal or website for everything from absences to trips to the zoo. Field trip and other activity forms often reside here. Such electronic advancements may help with permission forms lost on the way home, but electronic files do carry more risk of data loss.

The College Years

It’s often a shock for parents who’re paying college fees and tuition to learn they have no legal access to their child’s college files. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) considers your kid an adult at age 18, and that could leave parents who bankroll higher education with no access to grades or other vital data.

Planning for college is the right time to discuss having that young man or woman sign a FERPA release. Higher ed institutions often provide an online form to complete if you desire or expect access. Still, most operate on the belief that students should handle their affairs with no parental involvement. None.

Some parents view FERPA releases as an invasion of their offspring’s privacy, but others believe that they’re the banker, so they deserve access to records. Think of it as the “Trust but Verify” approach.

Note: the U.S. Dept. of Education states that parents retain access rights if the student’s still a dependent on your tax return, but colleges and universities may not know that. It’s just easier to have a FERPA release in their student file.

Even the most reliable college student could take an unexpected detour. If you want to know whether your kid is attending classes or turning in assignments, you’ll need a release.

Financial and health matters are parents’ top two concerns. You’ll need a Health Information Privacy & Portability Act (HIPAA) release to get data from the campus health clinic. Again, most centers catering to students should provide the forms.

Legal and banking matters are quite a different story. For example, if your child runs into a police problem or experiences a hack of their checking account, a Power of Attorney (PoA) signed by your student is needed to gain access.

Power documents are a service members receive from IDShield's sister agency, LegalShield.com. Medical PoAs let you determine care if your 19-year-old is incapacitated and can’t make medical decisions. These are also available through LegalShield.com.

Self-Protection and Data Selectivity

The trick is sharing only a few details you need to divulge. Ask why other information is required. Then ask a second official if that answer doesn’t make sense. Intake forms have contained a spot for SSNs for decades, and everyone may be familiar with the request, but that doesn’t make it wise. Share only what you must when you must.

Beyond Graduation

Recent graduates are also top hacker targets, given their limited experience in finance matters, renting, and other adult transactions. Be sure to warn them of bogus scams like the federal student tax, which doesn’t exist.

Student loan scams are also prevalent. (DJ link to July scam of the month when you post that) Recent federal records show those fraud involving government student loans jumped 188% in 2019. Non-government loan fraud reported was up 74%. Statistics on loan fraud trended even higher in 2020. A popular theme is loan consolidation to lower monthly payments, but that savings break could also wipe out federal benefits of loan forgiveness for those who qualify. Costs could end up being more than the current loans, in the long run, so urge caution here and do the math.

Shield Yourself and Yours

The best time for action is today. Or tomorrow. Don’t wait until a significant data loss occurs. Ask any school your child attends for its data privacy policy. You might be surprised by some of the details or omissions. A policy should delineate how the institution shares the data, too.

Learn all you can about why hackers love student data. Hackers are always seeking a new angle to compromise that personally identifiable information or PII.

Identity theft and oversharing data should be family concerns. They can inflict financial damages or impact your child’s personal safety. That’s one reason why IDShield provides a family policy that will cover your kids until age 26—even if you have 10 of them.

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage, and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.

Learn more about protecting your kids' personal data and your parental rights