Did you know your child’s identity could be a target for fraudsters? And it’s a very appealing one—for a couple of reasons.
First, if an identity thief steals your child’s identity, you may not discover the crime for years—until, for example, your child applies for a job, tries to open a credit card, or takes other action that causes someone to run a credit check.
A second reason ID thieves like to steal children’s identities is that their credit history is likely a clean slate—not tarnished by late payments or loan defaults that might be found on an adult’s credit history. That allows a criminal to do more with it, even though it will take the identity thief time to build a credit history from scratch.
How does an identity thief use a child’s Social Security number? The thief can simply make up a fake name and date of birth and do with it whatever you’d do with your Social Security number—open credit cards, fill out employment forms, apply for government benefits, and even file for a tax refund.
Can you imagine having to clean up such a mess if your child’s identity was stolen? And how would your child feel upon learning someone had negatively affected her credit history?
Child identity theft by the numbers
Remember the 2015 data breach at Anthem, the health insurance company? It reportedly exposed the Social Security numbers (and additional personal information) of tens of millions of children. That exposure puts those kids at risk of identity theft—now and for years to come.
In its Consumer Sentinel Network report of consumer complaints, the Federal Trade Commission reported that four to six percent of identity theft complaints the FTC received from 2014 through 2016 involved victims aged 19 years and under. And the Identity Theft Resource Center says it saw a 300 percent increase in inquiries and reports of child identity theft in 2014.
5 keys for preventing child identity theft
Here are five steps you can take to help protect your children from becoming victims of identity theft:
- Look for red flags. Learning how to recognize that your child’s identity has been compromised is key. The Identity Theft Resource Center offers a helpful list of warning signs that include:
• Bills or credit cards addressed to your child
• Credit card offers addressed to your child
• Collection agency calls
• IRS notice that your child’s name or Social Security number is listed on someone else’s dependent
- Find out if your child has a credit report. If you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies to ask if your child has a credit file.
• Equifax: 888-298-0045 or www.equifax.com
• Experian: 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
• TransUnion: 800-916-8800 or www.transunion.com
The best news you can hope to hear is that no credit report exists for your child. Having one may indicate credit activity—and possible identity theft. The Identity Theft Report Center, though, adds a couple of cautions:
• Do not order a report on a child unless you have a reason to do so. If you have no reason to suspect child identity theft, you will only cause problems in creating a report because of your multiple inquiries.
• The lack of information in a credit report at one moment in time does not permanently confirm that no activity is going on.
- Freeze it. If your child does have a credit report, it could mean trouble, that their Social Security number has been used to obtain credit. You’ll want to clean it up and, then, consider freezing the report.
In some states, the law allows you (parents, legal guardians, or other representatives of minors) to request the credit reporting agencies to freeze a child’s credit—to help protect it from identity thieves going forward. These states are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
- Be vigilant in protecting your child’s sensitive information. Schools, camps, and other programs often request your child’s Social Security number and other information they don’t need. Just as you would your own personal information, limit sharing your child’s personal information, as well—especially their Social Security number.
You may want to check out the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information page on child identity theft, which advises parents to find out how their child’s personal information is collected, used, stored, and discarded.
- Review online safety. As kids spend more time on connected devices and interacting on mobile apps and social media, parents must ensure their children aren’t sharing personal information. It’s smart for parents to talk with their children about what information is safe to share online.
Cleaning up a child’s identity, finances, and credit—especially when a breach has remained undetected for years—can present unique challenges. We want our children to have clean records when applying for jobs, financial aid, and more. Probably the most important step toward safeguarding your child’s identity is vigilance. By taking the extra steps today to help keep your children’s identity safe and secure, you—and they—may not have to pay the price tomorrow.