Child Identity Theft: The Threat You Never Knew Existed
Michael is 5 years old. He’s currently in kindergarten, he loves superheroes and he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. He’s creative, curious and full of life. Unfortunately, he’s also the victim of identity theft. Yes, that’s right, Michael has had his identity stolen and exploited by fraudsters using his name and social security number for their own ill-gotten gains.
While of us realize the threat of identity theft and take measures to protect our own personal information, many of us never think of our children as potential targets for these types of attacks. Well, we should.
A child identity fraud report conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research found that one in every forty households raising underage children suffers from these kinds of crimes each year. This not only places short-term hardships on the parents of these victimized children, but also puts the child’s future in jeopardy.
Imagine your child, she just turned 16 and has been studying around the clock for her driver’s exam. Once she has her license, she hopes to get a job and begin saving for college. Her future is bright and you couldn’t be more proud. On the day of her exam, you escort her to the DMV. Your daughter’s face is beaming with excitement.
But the man behind the counter soon informs you that your daughter will not be allowed to take the test today and, in fact, she has numerous unpaid speeding tickets to her name dating back a few years. Your daughter is crushed. How is this possible?
Further investigation reveals your daughter has a terrible credit history — even though she’s never owned a credit card. Her prospects of getting a job and attending her dream college begin to look dim.
Thieves like to steal children’s identities because it can go undetected for years. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your children from identity theft. In this post, we’ll detail the ways in which a thief might attempt to steal your child’s identity, how you can actively prevent it and exactly what to do if you child’s identity happens to be stolen.
How Can A Thief Steal My Child’s Identity?
Identity theft of children is most commonly accomplished through the creation of a “synthetic identity.” Since social security numbers are recorded by date of issue rather than date of birth, it’s impossible to distinguish whether a SSN belongs to a child or an adult immigrant. Thieves take advantage of this by gaining access to a child’s SSN and combining it with a different date of birth. This confuses creditors and government agencies into granting these criminals a line of credits, driver’s license and more in your child’s name.
As a parent, you need to be aware of the potential warning signs that your child’s identity has been stolen. These include:
- Suspicious mail addressed to your child such as credit card offers and other mail pieces generally sent to adults.
- An inability to open a new financial account due to poor credit history, though your child has never owned a credit card.
- A credit report already existing in your child’s name.
- If any fraudulent social media accounts exist in your child’s name, this may be a red flag that there are other personal information leaks.
If you notice any of these warning signs, investigate immediately. The quicker you’re able to identify and neutralize the threat, the easier it will be to reverse the effects without any long-term damage to your child’s future. You’ll also want to check with the big three credit bureaus (TransUnion / Experian / Equifax) that exist to see if there is any unwarranted activity on the account… this process is free!
How Do I Prevent My Child’s Identity From Being Stolen?
It’s important to guard your child’s personal information and be incredibly selective with who you share it with. Even most family and close friends shouldn’t be privy to these private details. The same study we referenced earlier also found that 27% of identity thefts in the U.S. are committed by people the children know. That’s a terrifying thought!
To help prevent your child from being taken advantage of, keep a close eye on where their personal information exists on the internet and in the various physical formats that may exist. Various institutions, be they local businesses, recreational sports leagues and more, may ask for your child’s SSN, though, it’s unnecessary. This doesn’t mean every institution is looking to take advantage. It’s just become such an accepted practice, no one even questions it anymore. But you should!
Always ask if their social security number is really necessary. If it is, learn how the information is stored, protected and used. Additionally, keep a list of everywhere your child’s information is located. By carefully guarding your child’s SSN and monitoring the institutions that possess this data, you’ll set up a strong initial defense against identity theft.
When you need to send your child’s information to schools, doctors/dentists offices, or any government-related organization, make sure you’re sending the information securely via a secure email service.
…Other Preventative Steps
Many parents seek to set up bank accounts for their children as a way to promote good money habits and help the children begin saving for their future at a young age. If this is a step you’ve considered taking, we applaud your forward thinking! Just ensure that the new bank account is joined with yours so that no one can access it without your permission. Your bank may do this automatically, but always check and make sure.
It’s also important to protect important paperwork such as social security cards and other documents that contain private, personal information. These documents should be locked in a safe and, if they’re no longer needed, shredded before being thrown out.
Finally, consider your digital security as well. Avoid sharing private details on public networks (like the library or coffee shop Wi-fi), invest in security programs for your phone, computer and other electronic devices and use an email encryption service to send personal information securely.
Also, it’s important to teach your child not to click on links in emails and using some best practices when searching on the web, filling out contact forms, and submitting payment information on websites.
What If My Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen?
If your child’s identity has been stolen, you need to work to remedy the situation immediately!
First, contact each credit reporting company — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and request a credit freeze for your child. Then, ask each company to also remove any accounts, account inquiries and collection notices from every file associated with your child’s name and SSN. Finally, ask one of the credit reporting company to issue a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. You will not need to ask all three; once one is alerted, they will notify the other two.
Once you’ve contacted each credit reporting company, you then need to reach out to every business where your child’s information was misused. Request that they close the false account and flag it to show that it was used for fraudulent purposes.
Lastly, notify the FTC online or call (877) 438-4338 to file a report. If the fraud is related to either medical services or tax, you should also file a police report. Visit the Federal Trade Commission for more information on the recommended steps to take if your child’s identity has been stolen.
Child identity theft is real and can have devastating effects on a child’s future if it’s not detected and handled appropriately. Use the tips in this post to help prevent against child identity theft.
If you’re suspicious your child’s personal information may be at risk, investigate the situation as soon as possible and work to reverse the effects of the attack. By actively defending against fraud, you’ll greatly reduce the risk to your child and help them achieve a wonderful future.
President & CEO, NeoCertified