Along with keeping children physically safe, it’s important to guard their sensitive information as closely as you guard yours. Why? Child identity theft is growing rapidly. There were over 1 million victims of child identity theft in 2017 alone, according to a 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research. If scammers can get a child’s Social Security number, they can quickly and easily apply for loans, open and charge up new credit cards, sign up for government benefits, even rent an apartment!
A faster and easier way to steal
Child identity theft works much the same way as adult identity theft, but the crooks are having more success stealing minors’ identities, because there usually is a clean slate with a minor’s identity. There isn’t much in the way of existing credit history or purchase records to slow them down, and most parents and guardians are unaware of how easy it is to steal a child’s identity.
You may not know anything is wrong until thieves have pillaged your kid’s identity, run up thousands in bad debts, and created serious problems that could take years to untangle.
What to look for
Timing is everything when it comes to catching and shutting down child identity theft. Keep an eye out for odd notices or emails and letters that don’t make sense, including:
- Notices from government agencies like the Social Security Administration or the IRS about benefits, payments, applications or taxes in your child’s name that you are unaware of
- Credit card applications that come in the mail, addressed to your child
- Bills or collection notices addressed to your child
If it looks funny, don’t blow it off. Check into it – and the sooner, the better. If you suspect something is wrong, you can contact the three credit bureaus, TransUnion®, Equifax® and Experian®. Explain that you suspect identity fraud with your child’s information, and ask them to check for any accounts or information with your child’s name and/or Social Security number. They will need you to verify your and your child’s information; they may ask for copies of a birth certificate and/or your identification.
If anything bad turns up, ask the bureaus to put a credit freeze on your child’s information. With a credit freeze, no new accounts can be opened without the bureaus contacting you first. This makes it harder for scammers to open new accounts or use the stolen information.
Then, it’s a matter of starting the process of repairing the damage. The Federal Trade Commission has a lot of helpful resources online to help prevent and recover from identity theft. You can report problems and get step-by-step help at IdentityTheft.gov.
How to help guard your kids’ data
Guarding your kids’ Social Security numbers and other sensitive data is key to protecting their identities. Be aware of who is asking for their Social Security number. Ask why they need it, how it will be used, and most importantly how they will protect the data. This includes:
- School forms, school records and school directories
- Medical, dental and vision forms and records
Read all the forms and information requests that come from your kid’s school. Be aware and ask questions before you share personal identifying information.
Good habits to help protect everyone’s data
As with your own Social Security number, don’t share your kids’ numbers unless it is absolutely necessary. Other good tips for everyone’s identity protection:
- Keep all paper records in a safe place.
- Don’t carry Social Security cards with you.
- Shred documents with personal information, don’t just put them in the trash.
- Keep a list of the organizations that have your family’s Social Security numbers.
Sweet 16? Time for a credit check
When your child is a teenager, it’s a good idea to check with the three credit bureaus to see if there has been any credit activity or credit reports in his or her name or Social Security number. That way, if there are errors or misuse, you have time to correct the errors or dispute the accounts before your child needs to apply for school loans, get their own credit card or rent that first apartment.
Being proactive now can help stop lots of headaches later. If you’re not already monitoring your valuable financial and personal information for everyone in your family, including the kids, start now! Early detection is the key to protecting your credit, your identity – and your child’s future.