How to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft
Identity theft is rampant. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that identity theft is the most common scam,1 accounting for more than 1.3 million complaints. While it can be messy and costly for adults to deal with the issue, children are also not immune. It can be disheartening to learn your child's finances have been affected before they can even build credit.
Here's what parents and other caregivers need to know about child identity theft, how to prevent it, and how to deal with it if it happens.
What Kinds Of Child Identity Theft Scams Are There?
Thieves love to get their hands on other people's information for fraudulent activities. Common things they use this information for include:
- Applying for a loan.
- Opening a bank or credit card account.
- Using it on a rent application.
- Setting up a cellphone or utility account.
- Applying for government benefits.
Unfortunately when they skip out on the bill, it's your child's name — and credit history — that's damaged. And if you aren't aware that your child's information was stolen, you may not know there's a problem you need to fix until your child is old enough to apply for credit or rent an apartment.
How Does Child Identity Theft Happen?
It's relatively easy for thieves to adopt someone else's identity with simple information like address and birth date, combined with a child's Social Security number. Criminals often can find basic information online with just a few keystrokes. Then Social Security numbers may be often obtained through hacks of systems at schools or doctor's offices, which routinely use the child's Social Security number as a form of identification. This leaves you vulnerable if their system is compromised.
Scammers can also piece together the key details of your child's identity by going through trash or gaining access to your home computer or network.
What Are Some Warning Signs That Child Identity Theft Has Occurred?
Wondering how to know if you've been affected by child identity theft? Without being vigilant or proactively checking, you might never know until your child actually needs a credit check to take out a student loan or apply for a job. By then, significant damage could have occurred. Here are four red flags to watch out for:
- You receive child credit card solicitations in their name.
- You receive bills or calls from a collection agency about an account you haven't opened.
- You are denied government benefits because the Social Security number is already being used.
- The IRS contacts you about taxes your child owes.
Freezing your child's credit will limit access by scammers intent on child identity theft. It's free to do and won't affect their (or your) credit.
How Can I Protect My Family From Child Identity Theft?
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chance that your family falls prey to child identity theft. Here's what you should keep in mind:
- Don't give out your child's Social Security number. In most situations, you aren't obliged to share this information. While a school can ask for your child's Social Security number, you are not required to give the school this information2 in order to enroll them. Healthcare providers often ask for your child's Social Security number, but again, in most cases, you're not required to give it. This Consumer Reports article3 explains your rights, and how to handle different situations.
- Shred documents with personal information before putting them in the recycling.
- Store all documents with personal information (such as birth certificates and cards with your child's Social Security number) in a safe place. Never store them in your car, on your desk, or on photos on your phone.
- Remind your child to never share personal information like their address and birthdate with someone they've met online.
- And same goes for you — never give out personal or financial information if you haven't initiated the contact. No reputable financial institution — including Synovus — will ever call, email, or text you to ask for your personal information.
- Freeze your child's credit by contacting all three of the major credit bureaus—Equifax4, Experian5, and TransUnion.6 This will limit access by scammers because no one can seek credit from an account that has been frozen (including you.) Freezing your child's credit is free and won't affect their (or your) credit. You can lift it whenever you need to by following each credit bureau's instructions online.
- You also can check with each of the bureaus to see if your child has a credit report. Normally they aren't kept for children under the age of 16, so the fact that they have one means that you may need to do some damage control. Here are links for requesting that information from each credit reporting agency: Equifax,7 Experian,8 and TransUnion.9 If they do have a credit report, the agency will tell you what to do next.
What If My Child Has Already Become A Victim Of Child Identity Theft?
Even with vigilance, it's still possible that your child's identity can be compromised. By acting fast, you can limit the damage and prevent future breaches. Here's what to do:
- Contact the company where the fraud occurred and ask them to close the account. Get written confirmation that they've closed the account and you're not responsible for the charges.
- Check to see if any of the three credit bureaus have a credit report for your child. If they do, follow their directions for requesting that they remove the fraudulent accounts. Get written confirmation when it's complete.
- Freeze your child's credit if you haven't done so to limit future fraudulent activity.
- Continue to monitor your child's credit carefully, challenging any future issues as they arise.
- Report the child identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov.10
With fraud and scams on the rise, families need to do all they can to proactively protect their financial information — and their child's.
Important disclosure information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- Federal Trade Commission, "Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020," published Feb. 2021, accessed July 26, 2021. Back
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, “Can a school require me to provide my/my child's Social Security number?" published July 12, 2019, accessed July 29, 2021. Back
- Diane Umansky, “If the Doctor Asks for Your Social Security Number, Do This," Consumer Reports, published Oct. 11, 2019, accessed July 29, 2021. Back
- Equifax, "Security Freeze," accessed July 26, 2021. Back
- Experian, "Security Freeze," accessed July 26, 2021. Back
- Transunion, "Credit Freeze," accessed July 26, 2021. Back
- Equifax, "How do I get a copy of my child's credit reports?" accessed July 28, 2021. Back
- Experian, "Fraud Form, Minor Child," accessed July 28, 2021. Back
- Transunion, "Child Identity Theft Inquiry," accessed July 28, 2021. Back
- www.identitytheft.gov, accessed July 26, 2021. Back
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