You might have heard stories of parents getting pre-approved credit cards for their pre-schoolers, or fresh graduates trying to get their first loan only to find out that they have a poor credit score without knowing anything about it.
That’s most likely a case of child identity theft.
Child identity theft isn’t as common as other forms of identity fraud. As a parent, however, it’s understandable that you want your kids to be protected from it all the same.
When it comes to your little ones, you should never be complacent about security, especially since a few lapses can ruin their financial future. That’s what we’re here for.
At the end of this article, you’ll fully understand what child identity theft is and the measures you can take to protect your kids against it.
We looked into official government sources on ID theft, searched the web for reputable online publications, and sought insights from experts to come up with this guide.
Don’t miss out on crucial tips on child identity theft only to find out years later when the damage has been done, and your kids are already victims of identity theft.
Keep reading until the very end and find out the top tip to prevent child identity theft that most parents probably don’t know about.
What is child identity theft?
When identity thieves steal and use another person’s information without their knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes, that’s called identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that there are many types of ID theft, but the most common is when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number (SSN), or credit card number, without permission to make purchases, open new accounts, or get loans.
Now, if the victim is a minor or someone below 18 years old, that’s child identity theft. Child identity theft happens when imposters use stolen data belonging to kids to create new identities, open financial accounts, and rack up debt.
Identity thieves see children as easy targets for identity theft as it often goes undetected for years. This is because they usually have a clean credit history and no established financial profile.
As a result, thieves can easily use their personal information to open new lines of credit, accrue debt, and even commit crimes.
Identity theft can have a major impact on a child’s life, so it’s crucial for you as parents, to be aware of the risks. By taking steps to protect your child’s personal information, you can help prevent identity theft and safeguard your child’s future.
How does child identity theft happen?
There are many ways child identity theft can happen. Here are some of the most common scenarios:
Theft from family, friends, or strangers
Your child’s information can be stolen by someone you know or a complete stranger. A dishonest nanny or babysitter, for example, may have access to your kid’s personal records and use them for their own gain.
Identity thieves can also go through your trash looking for financial documents that contain your child’s personal information. They may even pose as a representative from a legitimate company and call you asking for your child’s SSN.
If there’s a data breach in a company where you have an account, your child’s personal information may be compromised. This is especially true if you have an account with a school, hospital, or doctor’s office.
In 2017, for instance, the credit reporting agency Equifax announced that 150 million consumers were impacted by a data breach that lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.
Child ID theft through phishing scams is also common. These are emails, texts, or phone calls from someone posing as a legitimate company or person.
They may trick you into giving them your child’s personal information by saying they need it to verify an account or process a transaction.
Hacking is another way identity thieves can access your child’s personal information. They may hack into your computer or email account and look for financial documents that contain your kid’s SSN or other sensitive information.
Fraudulent online activities
Your child’s personal information can also be acquired through fraudulent online activities.
For example, scammers may create fake websites that look like a legitimate website of a school or doctor’s office. When you or your child enter their personal information on these websites, the scammers can then use it for identity theft.
Thieves may also steal your child’s wallet, purse, or backpack, which often contains their Social Security card or other important documents. If your child is old enough to have their own cell phone, laptop, or tablet, thieves may also see these as a good source of personal information.
What are the signs that your child’s identity has been stolen?
There are several signs that your child’s identity has been stolen. Here are some red flags to look out for:
Unexpected bills or collection notices
You may receive bills in your child’s name for products or services they didn’t purchase. You may also get collection notices from companies trying to collect on debts your child doesn’t owe.
Rejected applications for government benefits
If you’ve ever tried to apply for credit in your own name and been denied, you know how frustrating it can be.
The same is true for your child. If they try to apply for a school loan or credit card and are denied, it could be because their identity has been stolen.
Unexpected credit cards or accounts
You may find credit cards or accounts in your child’s name that you didn’t open. Debt collectors may also start harassing you about unpaid bills on these accounts.
Unusual activity on existing accounts
You may notice unusual activity on your child’s existing accounts, such as unexpected charges or withdrawals. This is a sign that someone has access to their account and is using it without your permission.
Suspicious inquiries on their credit report
You can check your child’s credit report to see if there are any suspicious inquiries from companies or lenders. This may be a sign that someone is trying to open new accounts in your child’s name.
You may get an IRS notice saying your child didn’t pay taxes or that they owe money for a return that was filed in their name.
How to protect your child from identity theft
There are several steps you can take to protect your child from identity theft. Here are some suggestions:
Check your child’s credit report
You can request a free copy of your child’s credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can do this by going to AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 877-322-8228.
You should check their credit report regularly to ensure no suspicious activities or inquiries.
Place a fraud alert or security freeze on your child’s credit report
A fraud alert basically tells creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts in your child’s name. It’s free and lasts for 90 days before you need to renew the request.
On the other hand, a security freeze prevents anyone from accessing your child’s credit report. This means creditors won’t be able to check their credit score when they apply for new credit, which may make it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in their name. Like fraud alerts, a security freeze is also free.
To place a fraud alert, you only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian – and they can coordinate with the remaining two agencies for you. To place a security freeze, you’ll need to send a written request to each of the three credit reporting agencies separately.
Keep your child’s personal information safe
You must store your child’s birth certificate, Social Security card, and other important documents safely at home. You should also shred any documents that contain their personal information before throwing them away.
Monitor your child’s online activity
Keep an eye on your child’s social media accounts and online activity.
Teach them not to share personal information, such as their address or Social Security number, with anyone online. Tell them how to spot identity theft and what they should do if they think their identity has been stolen.
Lock your child’s Social Security number
Finally, our top tip for protecting your child from identity theft is: Lock their Social Security number. Most parents don’t know about this, but it’s one of the best ways you can ensure that your child doesn’t become a victim of ID theft.
Locking your child’s Social Security number will prevent anyone from using it to apply for credit or other services. You can request a lock by contacting the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or online through your own Social Security account.
How to lock your child’s Social Security number
To lock your child’s SSN, contact the Social Security Administration to request a lock on your child’s Social Security number. You can do this using the contact number or link we provided above.
During the process, you’ll need to provide proof of your child’s identity, such as their birth certificate or Social Security card. You’ll also need to provide proof of your identity, such as a driver’s license or passport.
The Social Security Administration will then send you a confirmation letter with a PIN or password that you’ll need to lift the lock.
Locking your child’s Social Security number is a great way to protect them from identity theft. But it’s important to remember that this won’t stop all forms of fraud.
For example, if your child’s SSN is already being used for other purposes, such as tax fraud, a lock won’t stop that.
It’s also important to keep in mind that it may make it difficult for them to get a job or apply for credit when they’re older. So you’ll need to weigh the benefits and risks before you decide whether or not to lock their SSN.
What to do if your child is a victim of identity theft
If you think your child’s identity has been stolen, there are a few steps you should take right away.
- Contact the credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. This will make it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in their names.
- Contact the Social Security Administration and request a lock on your child’s Social Security number. This will prevent anyone from using their SSN for employment purposes.
- File a police report and a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This will create a paper trail that can be helpful if you need to take legal action against the identity thief.
These steps will help to protect your child and catch the identity thief. However, the best way to protect your child from the damages of ID theft is still to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Child identity theft is a serious problem, but there are steps you can take to protect your child. By checking their credit report regularly and placing a fraud alert or security freeze on their accounts, you can help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in their name.
You can also contact the Social Security Administration to request a lock on your child’s Social Security number. This will prevent anyone from using their SSN for fraudulent purposes.
Keep in mind that none of these are 100% foolproof. However, being aware of the risks and taking these steps will help protect your child from identity theft and give you peace of mind.