Few parents worry about their child becoming a victim of identity theft. It’s just not something that crosses your mind. After all, children don’t have credit cards, credit histories, or driver’s licenses. How does someone steal a child’s identity, and why?
Fraudsters are often able to gain access to a child’s social security number by obtaining a parent’s tax return information, where they are listed as dependents. Since minors do not have their credit pulled, it can take decades before any wrongdoing is suspected. Criminals can use these identities to open credit lines and file tax returns for years before it begins to look suspicious.
Identity theft should be a major concern for every parent. Around 1.3 million children have their identities stolen every year, half of which are less than six years old. Child credit and social security numbers are abused at an exponentially higher rate than the adult population.
How can you check if your child has been a victim of identity theft?
There are several warning signs. If you receive requests for tax returns from the IRS, pre-approved credit card offers, or debt collection letters addressed to your child, you need to investigate.
An obvious sign that someone’s identity has been compromised is if the IRS sends an Identity Verification Letter to the household. However, this is only sent out when the IRS has reason to suspect a tax return might not be genuine. Obviously, children do not fill out tax returns; their financial history is a blank slate. This makes it easy for criminals operate without looking suspicious to creditors.
The most important effective way to check if your child has had their identity stolen is by monitoring their credit report rating. There are three nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They all offer free annual credit reports. If you alternate between these agencies, you can check your child’s credit rating every four months at no cost. Keeping watchful for any sudden changes can allow you to respond quickly to identity theft.
Parents must be proactive in protecting their children’s identity.
To determine how badly your child might be at risk for identity theft, examine his or her online habits. For example, something as innocuous as a Facebook or Instagram page can reveal information about a child’s date of birth, or other pieces of information that can be used to steal their identity. If a child uses social media — something that perhaps should not be recommended at all — parents should monitor their behavior.
If we’ve learned one thing from “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, it’s that young children can have trouble differentiating between what is appropriate to share and what should be kept private. This leaked information can lead to identity theft. Parents should instruct children to use unique passwords for each site, and to not post any personal information online.
Furthermore you should keep your child’s information private. Keep birth certificates and social security cards in a safe, and only give their social security number to others when necessary. On your computer, be sure to use an adequate anti-virus program, as well as firewall protection. If you have files with personal information, encrypt or delete them.
What should I do if my child is the victim of identity theft?
In any case of identity theft, there are several key steps to fixing the situation. If you suspect that your child is a victim of identity theft, the first step is to send a fraud report to the FTC. They will ask for any information you might have about the identity theft and construct a recovery plan. Thankfully, it is a fairly straightforward process.
You can then put a credit freeze on the child’s file, by calling the three credit reporting companies. This won’t stop current credit lines from being used, but it will prevent new lines from being opened. You should also inform them that the debtor is a minor with a Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration. Finally, you will want to reach out to the Social Security Administration, IRS, and Postal Inspection Service to ensure that no one is authorized to access your or your child’s information.
No one suspects that their child has had their identity stolen. The idea that someone could be in financial ruins before graduating elementary school is a disturbing thought. However, with the right precautions, disaster can be avoided.
What do you think about childhood identity theft? If you have children, do you monitor their credit? I will monitor the comments below, so feel free to leave any questions, comments, or concerns.