Most adults realize the dangers of identity theft and take reasonable steps to protect themselves. However, did you know that child identity theft is a growing problem? In fact, The Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin estimates that a child is 35 times more likely to have their information stolen than an adult.
So why is a child’s identity so attractive to a thief?
3 Reasons Children Are Targets For Identity Theft
For starters a child’s Social Security Number (SSN) is clean. The chance to obtain an untainted SSN that has no credit history or credit problems is very attractive. It is significantly easier for a thief to combine a child’s unused SSN with a new name and address.
Another issue is that securing a child’s SSN is also much easier. In many circumstances the culprit ends up being a family member or another person known by the family.
Social security numbers can be found in public spaces such as a doctor’s office, school, and on forms at athletic recreational leagues, clubs or other organizations. We’d like to trust the workers at those locations who set eyes on the forms that contain our kid’s information but some have used their position to gain access to SSNs.
The biggest reason why kids are targeted is the length of time between the actual fraud and when it’s finally discovered. Because kids are not taking out credit and monitoring their identities, detection is unlikely to happen for years. Most likely it will not be found until the child applies for their first line of credit or the parents experience one of these other warning signs:
- The child cannot open a savings account or college fund (because the SSN is on another account)
- A child receives numerous credit card applications, bills or bank statements in their name
- A teen cannot get a driver’s license (because another person has a license with that SSN as ID)
- The child receives calls or letters from collection agencies about accounts they have not opened
- Law enforcement comes with a warrant for the child’s arrest
- The child is turned down for government benefits (because another account is using the child’s SSN)
- A child gets a notice from the IRS stating they didn’t pay their income taxes
Steps to Repair the Damage
If you believe your child’s identity may be compromised, check to see if they have a credit report by contacting any of the three credit reporting companies: Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742) or TransUnion (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Ask for a report with that child’s SSN. Hopefully, you will receive a response stating, “There is no report.” That would mean no one has used your child’s SSN.
If a report is generated and the child’s information is being used, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests you follow these steps to repair the damage:
- Inform the credit-reporting agency of what is on the report. Ask them to remove all accounts, account inquires and collection notices from files associated with your child’s SSN.
- Contact businesses where your child’s SSN was used. Ask them to close those accounts and flag the transactions that resulted from identity theft.
- Place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report.
- File a fraud alert with the FTC.
- File a police report if the fraud resulted from taxes or medical services.
Be Proactive and Practice Prevention
Cleaning up the damage created by an identity thief will be time consuming and frustrating. While no action can guarantee an ID won’t be stolen, you can minimize a child’s risk by taking these preventive measures:
1. Share your child’s SSN only when you must. School registration forms, athletic leagues, clubs and other organizations all may require a SSN but they have no legal need to do so. Challenge those who request such information and ask if you can use an alternate identifier for your child.
The last 4 digits of the SSN are the only critical numbers a criminal needs to start the process. Do not be reassured if the requestor only asks for those four digits.
2. Keep birth certificates and social security cards in a secure place out of the sight of others.
3. Manage your child’s online privacy settings and monitor what they are sharing online. Discuss with them the dangers of sharing too much personal information. Their social media page is a prime target for thieves to gather personal information.
4. If your child spends time online, teach them how to spot an authentic website from one set up to steal information.
5. Shred all documents that contain account numbers or SSNs before you throw them out.
6. Teach children never to give out personal information over the phone, in a chat room, instant message or anywhere online unless you can be completely certain you are dealing with a legitimate company.
Child identity theft is a growing crime. Your best bet is to be proactive and limit a thief’s opportunities. And when something suspicious occurs don’t blow it off. It may be a red flag signifying a greater threat.
You can find more helpful information on this topic at idtheftcenter.org
Questions: Do you know of anyone who had their identity stolen when they were a child? How did it impact them? What other ways can you protect kids from identity theft? Why are family members so often the main culprit?