Editor's note: The Register's parent company, CNHI, has papers all over the United States. Each Wednesday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing their communities.

We generally do not think of school children when we think of identity theft.

But we want to let our readers know that it can, and does, happen.

According to the Better Business Bureau, a past survey conducted by the Identity Theft Assistance Center indicated one out of every 40 families with children younger than 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised.

The study indicated identity thieves typically steal children's Social Security numbers, since the youths do not generally have credit histories, credit cards, bank accounts, licenses and financial statements.

The BBB offers these steps to protect a child's identity: find out who has access to your child's personal information; verify that school records are kept in a secure location; and pay attention to forms from the school.

The BBB said forms that ask for personal information, including your child's Social Security number, may come home with your child, or you may get them through the mail or by email.

The BBB recommends that parents find out if they can provide a different identifier other than the SSN as well as how their child's information will be used, whether it will be shared and with whom.

Experts urge parents to always read all forms carefully.

Schools send home an annual notice that explains rights under the Family Educational and Privacy Act, including their right to: inspect and review the child's education records; approve the disclosure of personal information in the child's records; and ask to correct errors in the records.

Parents should ask for a copy of the school's policy on surveys, the bureau suggests, adding that the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment gives the public the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.

The BBB cautions children may participate in programs, such as sports and music activities, that aren't formally sponsored by the school. The programs may have websites where children are named and pictured. Parents are encouraged to read the privacy policies of these organizations to find out if -- and how -- a child's information will be used and shared.

If a school experiences a data breach, the school administration or district office should notify parents. If parents believe their child's information has been compromised, they should contact the school. Experts urge parents to talk with teachers, staff or administrators about the incident and their practices, keeping a written record of all conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator and, if necessary, to the school board, the BBB suggested.

In the event personal data is compromised and parents are not satisfied with the local response, they can file a written complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Contact the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, D.C. 20202-5920.

Breaches can occur even when the people and institutions handling data use extreme caution. We hope it never occurs here, but in the event identity theft does occur, parents should know they have some recourse.

-- Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times

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