Protecting Children From Identity Theft

Let’s be honest, who isn’t worried about identity theft these days? We’ve all heard the horror stories on the news of someone’s data being breached and a thieving hacker wrecking an unsuspecting person’s credit after buying everything but the kitchen sink using someone else’s information.

But even more frightening is the thought of your child’s information being stolen. An identity thief / hacker could use your child’s Social Security number to get a job or a tax refund, open bank and credit card accounts or even apply for a loan.

And what’s worse, since parents don’t typically check their children’s credit scores, it could be years before you discover your child’s identity has been fraudulently used.

Cause for concern

There are several warning signs that your child’s data may have been breached. Some of those include:

  • Being turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number.
  • Getting a notice from the IRS saying your child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return.
  • Getting collection calls or bills for products or services you or your child didn’t receive.

If any of these ring a bell, you should act immediately to determine whether there’s a problem.

Taking Action

First things first, run your child’s credit report and ask for a search based only on your child’s Social Security number. That will ensure any activity associated with your child’s Social Security number is included in the report – even if the number was used with a different name.

Children generally don’t have credit reports, so if they do, it’s a sign someone may have fraudulently used their information. If that has occurred, a parent or guardian should contact any businesses where a child’s information has been misused and ask them to close the account and flag it to reflect identity theft.

Parents should also file a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission and place a fraud alert with the three credit reporting companies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian. Request each credit company remove all accounts, account inquiries and collection notices from any files associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.

And if any of the activity involves medical services or taxes, you may want to consider filing a police report, too.

Be Proactive

So how do you protect a child’s identity from being stolen in the first place? The first step is to be vigilant.

Periodically check to see if your child has a credit report – definitely by the time he or she turns 16. That will give you a chance repair any issues before your child needs to apply for a loan, an apartment or insurance.

Even if your child doesn’t have a credit report, in some states you can place a credit freeze for your child, which will make it difficult for a thief to use your child’s information.

Other tips include:

  • Use a safe location for all your child’s paper and electronic records showing any personal information.
  • Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party.
  • Shred all documents showing your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
  • Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. If you’re not comfortable with the release of information to third parties, ask to opt-out.

The good news is that with a little bit of effort, you can give yourself peace of mind and help keep your child’s identity secure.