Published: May 03, 2024
8 min read

Child identity theft: How to help protect your child


Anna Wratislav

Anna Wratislav

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A parent shields their child, illustrating how a parent can help protect their child from identity theft.

If your child is getting pre-approved credit card offers in the mail, you both may have a problem: child identity theft. We’ll explain what you can do to help protect your child against identity theft, the steps to take if your child becomes a victim, and how a LifeLock family membership can help safeguard your family’s personal information.

What is child identity theft?

Child identity theft happens when someone steals a minor’s personal information and uses it fraudulently to open credit accounts, take out loans, apply for government benefits, or aim at other nefarious ends. Child identity theft often begins with a stolen Social Security number or birth certificate, which the thief uses to build a credit file over several years — essentially creating a false identity.

While children, especially children under the age of 7, can be easy targets for identity theft (perhaps because their widespread use of social media can easily expose their personal information), they are among the least likely cohort to report incidents of identity fraud. That discrepancy could be because many victims of child identity theft know the perpetrators, which can make reporting the fraud complicated and fraught.

Furthermore, when children are victimized by identity fraud, it can be difficult for them to know what happened, because piling debts and credit damage may not be discovered until the child reaches adulthood and applies for their first loan or credit card. We’ll show you some of the warning signs to help you safeguard your child’s personal information to better protect them against child identity theft.

Child identity theft commonly goes undiscovered until the child reaches adulthood.

Children may not understand the risks of technology or oversharing online, which can make them more vulnerable to identity theft.

What are the warning signs of child identity theft?

You might not think often about your child’s Social Security number. And usually, there’s no reason to believe your child has an active credit file at a major credit bureau. After all, younger children rarely have a reason to seek credit. But there are signals you can look out for that indicate something might be amiss.

Here are some of the warning signs listed by the Federal Trade Commission that could point to your child’s Social Security number being misused for child identity theft:

  • You receive pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. Credit card companies send offers based on information gleaned from someone’s credit file. A pre-approved credit card offer may suggest your child has an active credit file at one of the credit bureaus — in other words, a history of borrowing money.
  • You’re denied government benefits. You might apply for a government benefit for your child only to discover that the benefit is being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number.
  • You receive a notice from the IRS. A letter from the IRS stating your child didn’t pay income taxes is another tipoff that your child’s personal information has been stolen.
  • You get calls and letters about unpaid bills. If a collection agency calls to say your child owes money — or if a bill in your child’s name arrives in the mail — it could indicate your child has been a victim of identity theft.

How to protect against child identity theft

Knowing how to spot the red flags is only half the battle. Identity thieves actively seek a child’s personal information, especially a Social Security number. So, when it comes to protecting your child against identity theft, reducing the risk by limiting the exposure of personal information is a must.

Below, we'll explore some of the ways you can keep your child’s sensitive information safe to help protect against identity theft.

An illustration of a parent protecting their child from child identity theft.

Help protect your child from identity theft by safeguarding their personal information.

Safeguard your child’s Social Security number

Avoid sharing your child’s Social Security number whenever possible. If an organization or individual requests your child’s SSN, always ask why they need it and check whether it’s possible to use a different identifier instead. Or disclose only the last four digits. It’s also important to scrutinize privacy policies and ask how they’ll keep your child’s personal information secure.

Store sensitive information in a secure place

Keep documents with your child’s personally identifiable information in a secure place. A locked filing cabinet can be useful for storing papers such as medical reports and bills, insurance policies, and other documents that contain your child’s sensitive information. Official documents, such as birth certificates, passports, and Social Security cards should be kept in a secure location, too, such as a safety deposit box or locked safe. 

Shred sensitive documents before discarding them

Always shred documents with your child’s personal information before throwing them away. If you don’t have a shredder, look for a local shredding service in your area where you can take your papers to drop-off locations and have them shredded for free. Some banks and businesses also offer shredding services.

Consider placing a freeze on your child's credit report

If your child is under the age of 16, contact each of the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) to place a credit lock or freeze on their credit report. This freeze prevents the credit reporting agency from releasing your child’s credit report to third parties. It also prevents anyone from opening a credit account in your child’s name.

Delete personal information before disposing of a computer or cell phone

Any computer or phone from your household can contain personal information about your child. When you’re upgrading or replacing a device, make sure you fully remove all personal information by restoring it to default factory settings before selling, donating, or recycling it.

Educate your child about online safety

Teach your child about the dangers of giving out personal information. Consider setting rules about what information shouldn’t be shared online or on social media and help your child set strong passwords on all their accounts and devices. You can also set boundaries about not giving out personal data by phone, text, or email without your permission, and discuss how to politely refuse requests for it.

Use identity theft protection services

Identity theft protection services, like those included in LifeLock family plans, are great tools to help monitor your family’s online accounts, passwords, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive information for signs of identity theft. Membership in a LifeLock family plans offer several levels of identity theft protection and recovery assistance, so you can find the best option to suit your family’s needs.

What to do if your child is a victim of child identity theft

If you discover that your child’s information is being misused to commit child identity theft, here’s what to do:

Step 1. Shut down the fraudulent accounts

Contact the businesses where your child’s information was misused and ask them to close the fraudulent accounts. Be sure to keep proof of the suspected identity theft in the form of screenshots and documentation. Ask the businesses for written confirmation that they have closed the account and that your child isn’t responsible.

Step 2. Check your child’s credit report

Request a free credit report for your child so you can see the fraudulent loan and credit history. Then, contact the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and request a manual search of your child’s file. That means searching for files associated with your child’s name, Social Security number, or both. Keep thorough records — note the dates you made phone calls or mailed letters to the credit agencies and keep copies of any letters you receive.

Here’s an email template you can use to request a credit file and report the identity theft to the credit bureaus:

Step 3. Freeze your child’s credit reports

Immediately request a credit freeze to make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your child's name. The freeze will stay in place until you tell the credit bureaus to remove it.

At the same time, ask each credit bureau to remove all information associated with your child’s name and Social Security number. That includes all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices. You’ll need to provide the agencies with a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration, which is available on the FTC website.

Step 4. File fraud and identity theft reports with the FTC

Contact the Federal Trade Commission directly to file a report about the fraudulent accounts created in your child’s name and to create an identity theft report.

Keep your family safer with a LifeLock Family plan

Protecting your child from identity theft can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. That’s where LifeLock comes in. A LifeLock family plan provides alerts if your family members’ Social Security numbers, names, addresses, or birthdates appear in applications for credit services.

And if the worst should happen, we’ll even assign you a US-based identity restoration specialist to help you in the recovery process. Get a LifeLock family membership today to give yourself — and your family — greater peace of mind. 

FAQs about child identity theft

Why do identity thieves target children for identity theft?

There are several reasons why children are targeted in identity theft schemes. An identity thief may decide to go after a child’s identity because the theft often goes unnoticed for many years, giving them more time to take advantage of the fraud. Children typically don’t have credit reports in their name, and they don’t generally apply for new loans or credit until they’re older, so it can take years before a victim realizes their identity has been stolen.

In addition, children tend to be heavy users of social media, which can expose their personal information and leave it vulnerable to theft. And younger people may also be “less likely to follow cybersecurity protocols than their older counterparts,” which can lead to increased risks associated with using software and apps that aren’t up to date.

How common is child identity theft?

According to the child identity fraud report published by Javelin Strategy & Research in 2022, 915,000 U.S. children were victims of child identity fraud in the previous year. The study also found that “children under the age of 7 were most likely to be victimized by ID theft and subsequent ID fraud.”

Can family members be responsible for child identity theft?

More often than not, the perpetrator of the child identity theft is a parent, relative, other family member living in the same household, or someone else known to the victim. The 2022 Javelin Strategy & Research study on child identity theft reported that of households with child identity theft victims, 67% knew the perpetrators personally.

The fact that child identity theft is often perpetrated by a family member or someone else known to the victim makes the crime particularly unsettling, because reporting it can lead to an especially fraught situation for the child and their family.

What are the consequences of child identity theft?

The consequences of child identity can be severe and long-lasting. Damage caused to credit scores by identity theft can prevent your child from receiving government benefits, getting a job, and even getting loans approved for study or major purchases such as a house or car when they’re old enough. 

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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