The hidden victims of identity theft: Your kids

kids

You may be vigilant about keeping your own identity and that of your adult partner or spouse safe. But have you thought about how to protect your child’s identity?

According to Experian, up to 500,000 children are affected by identity theft each year. Sadly, the majority of offenders are family members or close family friends. And because of the hidden nature of child identity theft, the crime is often not discovered until years after the fact when the child has grown and tries to open their first credit card or applies for a car or student loan.

This particular kind of identity theft can be enticing because children provide a blank slate from which a person can apply for credit and take out loans. According to Identity Theft Resource Center, credit issuers do not often verify the age of the applicant, so the age listed becomes “official” with the first credit application. For example, if the first application indicates that the applicant is 24 years old, credit agencies will believe that until a dispute is filed and proven.

Possible warning signs

If any of these happen to you, it’s worth following up on right away.

  • You or your child are turned down for government benefits.
  • You receive an IRS notice saying the child didn’t pay taxes or that their Social Security number was used on another return.
  • You start getting collection calls or bills for products/services you never received.
  • You receive preapproved credit cards in your child’s name.
  • You try to open a financial account for your child and find there’s one open already, or they are denied an account because of poor credit history.
  • A credit report exists in their name. 

Bear in mind it’s still possible your child’s information will be misused even without any of these signs. Don’t necessarily blame yourself if your child becomes a victim.

If it happens

  • Fill out a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration, available at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and submit to companies that require it.
  • Check with the three reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Request reports and place a fraud alert on the credit files.
  • Contact every business where your child’s information was misused. Ask each business to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.
  • File a formal complaint with FTC.
  • Consider filing a police report, which could help prove the identity theft to creditors.

Prevention tips

  • Keep all paper and electronic files with your child’s personal information in a safe location.
  • Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it’s protected. See if you can use the last four digits instead.
  • Shred documents that contain personal information before throwing them away.
  • Do not carry your child’s Social Security number in your wallet.
  • Teach children not to give out personal information over the phone. Do not give out any of your child’s information on the Internet unless you’re sure you’re dealing with a legitimate company.
  • Pay attention to events that may put your child’s information at risk; for example, losing a wallet or sensitive paperwork, a family or friend trying to evade a bad credit rating, a break-in at home, or a business alerts you to a security breach.
  • If your child is enrolled in school, verify records are secure and who has access. Ask about the school’s directory information policy and pay attention to forms that come home and what they ask for. Know your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. 

The FTC also recommends you check to see if your child has a credit report when they turn 16. This gives you time to make corrections before they go off on their own.

Resources:

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