How to Protect Your Child from Identity Theft
Preventative measures to take now, and steps to take if your child’s identity gets stolen.
In September 2017, a massive Equifax security breach became public knowledge. If there was a silver lining to this infamous event, it likely spurred more consumers to take more measures to protect their identities. Perhaps you’ve frozen your lines of credit, or you’re at least checking your credit reports more regularly these days. That’s all well and good. But what about your kids? Are you also taking measures to protect your child from identity theft?
As distasteful as the idea may be, child identity theft is a serious and growing concern, for several reasons:
Child identity theft happens more often than you think.
In a 2018 Child Identity Fraud report, Javelin Strategy & Research found more than a million children were identity fraud victims in 2017, costing families more than $540 million in out-of-pocket expenses.
Children’s identities are a tempting target for identity thieves.
Identity thieves especially love your child’s Social Security Number, since it usually offers them a clean slate, devoid of credit history. If they can get ahold of it, they can create all sorts of havoc, such as racking up debt, filing bogus tax returns or applying for public aid – all under your child’s identity. Imagine your child having to deal with this right when they are trying to establish themselves as a young adult.
A child’s identity is often easy pickings for theft.
As you would expect, kids may not be as careful with their identity; after all, they are just kids. However, since kids entertainment usually involves new technologies and online accounts, they are more exposed to added risks. Javelin’s report also connected kids’ susceptibility to being bullied with a higher likelihood they’ll end up giving out personal information – online or to people they know.
Child identity theft often goes undetected.
While we may be vigilant about monitoring our own credit reports, many parents don’t realize they should be doing the same for their children. As described in this Wall Street Journal piece, lax oversight “often allows theft to go unnoticed for years, until the victims reach college age and start applying for credit cards and student loans.”
Know the early warning signs of child identity theft and take them seriously.
Is your seven-year-old receiving credit card offers in the mail? Has a collection agency called and asked to speak to your toddler? Has your child been turned down for government benefits because they are already being paid using their social security number? Any of these signs could mean your child’s identity has been compromised.
Check your child’s credit history regularly.
Use AnnualCreditReport.com to check in with the three major credit agencies to see if your child has a credit history. Unless you’ve opened a file in your child’s name, they shouldn’t have one; if they do, this is a big red flag. Parents may request their child’s credit report at any time while children may request their credit report after age 14.
Consider establishing and freezing your child’s credit file.
For added protection, you may choose to create credit files for your children, and then freeze them until needed. This makes it much harder for an identity thief to successfully use any stolen information to establish a fake line of credit.
Note: Effective September 21, 2018, a new Federal law makes it easier to freeze your own and your minor children’s credit files.
Educate your child about the dangers of identity theft.
As soon as your children are old enough to understand, recruit them to assist. The Federal Trade Commission offers this handy information on how to talk to your children about computer security. Also, assure them, they should never be afraid to tell you if they feel they’re being bullied by anyone – under any circumstances.
Just as it is second nature to help your children apply sunscreen when the sun is shining or to bundle them up on a winter day, protecting them from identity theft should be part of your regular, all-weather routine these days. A few sensible and regularly applied defenses could ward off years of damage done from an “overexposure” to identity theft.
RELATED ARTICLE: Avoiding Financial Scams and Identity Theft Slams.
What to do if your child’s identity has been stolen.
Unfortunately, even if you have solid proof of your child’s identity has been stolen, you may still have trouble getting their credit report cleaned up. It can sometimes take years in court to clear up a child identity theft case. Here are a few things you must do to start the process.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and report the theft. The FTC places top priority on child identity theft cases, and they will also take future identity theft protection measures for your child.
- You’ll need to file a police report so you can begin the process of closing the fraudulent accounts. Collect as much documentation as you can provide to supply to the proper authorities, such as collection notices, bills, and credit reports.
- Contact the credit reporting bureau as well as the company that provided the information in-writing to cover your bases. Ask for a credit freeze as a form of child identity theft protection. Explain the error and include copies of documents that support your dispute.
- If collection agencies are involved, contact them, along with the credit issuers. You’ll need to open a dispute process and request removal of all the accounts and collection notices from the files. Always expect to provide a copy of your police report.
- Contact the fraud department of the companies where your child’s information has been used for identity theft. Close every account and request that they are flagged for identity theft.
While this information is meant to be helpful, it is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact and consult with your legal team, attorney, or financial advisor to discuss any legal issues or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
Fortunately, a few basic steps can go a long way toward protecting your child from identity theft.
Once your child’s identity is stolen, the restoration process can be long, tedious, expensive, and frankly exhausting- which is why preventative measures are so crucial. If you want to see a few real-life stories of the ramifications of identity theft, check out this website: Your Evil Twin.
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