If your 3-year-old is getting pre-approved credit card offers in the mail, you both may have a problem: child identity theft. Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a child’s Social Security number to commit fraud. That might include opening credit accounts, taking out loans or applying for government benefits or a job.
The crime can go undetected for years. Debts may pile up. Victims of child identity theft often discover it when they’re older. They might apply for a student loan, for instance, but get rejected due to damaged credit.
In this article, you’ll learn more about these topics:
- How child identity theft happens
- What are the warning signs of child identity theft?
- How to help protect your child’s identity
- What to do if your child is a victim of identity theft
How child identity theft happens
Child identity theft usually begins with a stolen Social Security number.
Parents often get their children a Social Security number soon after they’re born. Why? For a lot of reasons. Parents need that number to claim the child as a dependent on their income tax return, and to open a bank account or get medical coverage for the child. Also, parents can buy savings bonds, or apply for government services for the child.
Child identity theft can happen when the child’s Social Security number is stolen and used to commit fraud. A thief might use a child’s Social Security number to build a credit file over the course of years—in effect, creating a false identity.
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 likely do not have a reason to seek credit.
But there are signals that something might be amiss. The Federal Trade Commission lists a number of warning signs that your child’s Social Security number is being misused, including these:
- Receiving pre-approved credit card offers in the mail – Credit card companies send offers based on information gleaned from someone’s credit file. An offer suggests your child has a credit file at one of the credit bureaus – meaning, a history of borrowing money.
- Getting turned down for government benefits — You might apply for a government benefit for your child, but discover that benefit is being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number.
- Getting a notice from the IRS – A letter from the IRS saying your child didn’t pay income taxes is one tipoff.
- Receiving calls or letters about unpaid bills – If a collection agency calls to say your child owes someone 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 help protect your child’s identity
Think prevention. An identity thief seeks your child’s personal information, especially a Social Security number. Your mission is to guard that information. Here’s how.
- Avoid sharing your child’s Social Security number whenever possible. For instance, if a school asks for your child’s Social Security number, ask if you can use a different identifier, instead. Ask, too, how the organization safeguards personal information.
- Keep documents and papers with the child’s personal information in a safe, secure place.
- Shred documents with your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
- Be watchful of anyone in your household who might use your child’s identity for their own gain.
- Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. Directories often include a lot of personal information. Who does the school share it with? You may choose to opt out.
- Take action if a data breach occurs at your child’s school. Contact the school for more information.
What to do if your child is a victim of identity theft
If you suspect that your child’s information is being misused, the FTC recommends checking whether your child has a credit report. Here are the steps to take.
- Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
- Request a manual search of your child’s file. This means searching for a file with your child’s name and Social Security number, as well as for one using just the Social Security number.
- Keep records. Note the dates you made phone calls or mailed letters to the agencies, and keep copies of any letters you receive.
If you find out your child has been a victim of identity theft, you’ll take further steps, including these.
- Call each credit bureau and ask it to remove information associated with your child’s name and Social Security number. This includes all accounts, account inquiries and collection notices. You will need to provide the agencies with a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration, which established the child is a minor.
- Contact businesses where your child’s information was misused and ask them to close the fraudulent accounts and note the presence of identity theft.
- Contact one credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. That bureau will contact the other two.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on the child’s credit.
- Order your child’s credit reports—and review them.
- File a fraud report with the FTC online or by phone—877-438-4338.
- Create an Identity Theft Report at identitytheft.gov.
The bottom line is the threat of child identity theft is real.
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