5 Steps to Prevent Child Identity Theft
If your toddler receives a summons for jury duty in the mail, or your tween gets a phone call from a debt collector, don’t be too quick to laugh it off as a fluke—it could be a sign of identity theft.
Over 1 million children were the victims of identity theft in 2018, resulting in losses of $2.67 billion, according to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research. Children are up to 51% more likely to be victims of ID theft than adults, and 66 percent of the victims are age 12 or younger.
As adults, we know that our identities are at risk and we’ve learned to take steps to protect our information, but child identity theft has become much more prevalent—and much costlier. Why are children’s identities such good targets for identity thieves? When a child is born, most parents apply for a Social Security number, which is all that’s required to open most credit accounts. It could be up to 18 years before a child applies for credit in his or her own name, which makes it easy for identity theft to go undetected for years. Further, children usually have a clean credit report. This ‘blank slate’ credit file is much easier to use than a potentially low credit score of an adult, enabling thieves to open new credit card accounts, obtain driver’s licenses, get a job, and even buy homes and cars.
How to Prevent Child Identity Theft
The best way to protect your child’s personal information is to be proactive. Once their information is stolen, there is almost nothing you can do to get it back.
- Keep information out of circulation. Don’t share personal details such as your child’s social security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how the information will be protected. It’s also imperative to educate your child about protecting their identity. Teach them safe internet behaviors, including how to spot potential scams and phishing attempts.
- Guard your documents. Unfortunately, over 30% of child identity theft is committed by family members, friends, or acquaintances, so be sure to keep sensitive personal and financial information out of sight, lock up paper documents such as birth certificates and social security cards, and password-protect your home electronic devices.
- Freeze your child’s credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act now requires bureaus to offer credit freezes (and thaws) for free. It’s easy to do, but a freeze must be placed separately with each of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Placing a security freeze restricts access to your child’s credit report, preventing identity thieves from opening new accounts or applying for credit. (Find out how to place a credit freeze at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs)
- Check your child’s credit report when they turn 16. A credit report is not generally created until a person applies for credit and has been using it for about 6 months, so most children under age 18 will not have a credit report. If you do find your child has a credit report and there are errors due to fraud or identity theft, checking it early will give you time to correct it before your child applies for a job, a student loan, car loan, or needs to rent an apartment.
- Look for red flags. While a credit freeze can help with credit, there are many other ways a social security number and other data can be misused, including fraudulent tax returns, false medical claims, or even criminal identity theft, in which the thief provides someone else’s information to law enforcement at the time of an incident, leaving the victim with a criminal record. Be on the alert for unusual calls or mailings that would indicate adult issues, such as a jury summons or preapproved credit card offers. Monitor your health insurance statement for erroneous claims. Investigate any calls from collection agencies right away.
What if you suspect fraud?
If you suspect that your child’s information has been compromised, first contact all three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert and lock your child’s credit file. If an account was opened in your child’s name, contact the bank or institution where the account was opened to get the account(s) closed. If an older child’s online profile was tampered with, such as their usernames and passwords for websites, have them log in to all their online accounts and change their credentials as soon as possible.
Once you’ve secured your child’s credit reports, go to the Federal Trade Commission site at www.identitytheft.gov or call 877-ID-THEFT to report the identity theft and find out your next steps.
Find out how COPFCU can help you protect your child’s identity with ID Protect