What is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft occurs when an imposter steals personal identifying information, usually a Social Security number, from a minor under 18 years old and uses it for their own personal financial benefit, including opening credit cards, taking out loans, filing false tax returns and more.
3 Reasons Children are Vulnerable to Identity Theft
Children Have Clean Credit Histories
For identity thieves, getting a hold of a child's social security number can be a jackpot. Kids have a totally clean credit history, which can actually make it extra easy for fraudsters to open new accounts, file tax returns and more.
Suspicious Activity Often Goes Undetected
Most parents don't think to review their child's credit report for fraudulent activity, so the crime may continue for years, often going undetected until the parent starts receiving suspicious bills or collection agency calls, or tries to open an account in the parent's name.
Children's Information is Not Carefully Protected
Your child's social security number is collected and stored in many places - school, daycare, the doctor's office, tax forms. Each time it is shared increases the risk of it falling into the wrong hands. In addition, modern parents often share a lot of information about their children on social media, which can make it easier for thieves to piece together enough information to open accounts in a child's name.
Why Freezing Your Child's Credit is the Best Way to Protect them from Identity Theft
Experts pretty much universally agree that every parent should freeze their child's credit because it's the best way to protect children from identity theft. Freezing a child's credit report restricts access to their credit file so it's more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in a child's name.
Thanks to recent legislation, freezing a child's credit can be done for free by working directly with the major credit bureaus. However, their processes are inconsistent and complicated, and require a lot of administrative tasks. Credit Parent simplifies the process for busy parents - fill out one simple form on your phone and we'll take care of the rest!
What is child identity theft and is my child at risk?
Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a child's personal information, most often their social security number, to commit theft, such as opening financial accounts. The thief may be a stranger, a friend of the family, or even a family member. According to a study by Experian, one-third of child identity theft victims knew the person who stole their identity.
Child identity theft is an increasingly common crime, especially as data breaches are on the rise. Carnegie Mellon researchers found children's social security numbers are 51 times more likely to be used to open fraudulent accounts when their personal information is compromised in a data breach. Identity theft and fraud will impact about 25% of children by their 18th birthday, according to credit bureau Experian. More than one million children fell victim to identity theft in 2017, according to a 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy and Research.
How could my child's identity get stolen?
A child's identity can be stolen in many different ways. Their Social Security number could be taken during a data security breach - for example the Oregon Department of Human Services experienced a massive breach that impacted 645,000 people, including many children. Data thieves may obtain a child's information in other ways, too. Such as parents oversharing on social media, or by not carefully protecting financial documents. Schools, day cares, summer camps and other organizations ofter request a child's social security number, even though it's not necessary. As a parent, you should be vigilant in protecting this information and not sharing it unless absolutely necessary. Children are also more likely to have their financial information stolen by friends and relatives, so it's important to store all sensitive documents in a secure place, such as a locked safe or use an encrypted cloud-storage service.
What methods do identity thieves use to steal a child's identity?
Children are ideal targets for identity thieves because they have a clean credit record and the crime often goes undetected. Thieves use both online and office approaches to get their hands on a child's Social Security number.
The two common "offline" or "in real life" techniques are:
• Casual Observer: Thieves can watch as you type or write sensitive information into a document or form, or they may listen as you relay sensitive information on a phone call. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are speaking with your child's medical provider or someone else that is likely to request a birthday, Social Security number, etc.
• Trash Collector: Thieves also may steal hard copies of documents that you've thrown away. That is why it's always important to shred any document that contains your child's date of birth or social security number.
Stealing a child's Social Security Number, birthdate and other sensitive information using online methods is even more common than the offline approaches. Here are some of the ways identity thieves may steal your child's information online:
• WiFi Wizard: When you join a public WiFi network, your data is generally not encrypted, so anyone with a little tech know-how and nefarious intentions can grab your child's information.
• Website Spy: Sharing your child's Social Security number on an unencrypted website can leave the information vulnerable to theft. Look for a lock icon and an https:// url to ensure your data is being shared securely. When sharing a child's data via email, you may want to ask your sender to use an encrypted email service.
• Pretty Phishy: Thieves posing as a trusted source may email or call you from an address that looks familiar and ask you to click on a link or share your child's financial information. These schemes can be highly elaborate, so when in doubt, do not share your child's information unless you've confirmed the person requesting the information is legitimate.
How do I check to see if my child's identity has been stolen?
There are several red flags you may notice to alert you that your child may be a victim of identity theft. If you notice any of these signs, you should take action to minimize the long-term damage identity theft can cause for a child:
• You receive medical bills in your child's name for services they did not receive
• You receive a letter for a pre-approved credit card in your child's name
• You are denied government assistance or medical insurance because your child's Social Security number has already been assigned
• The IRS sends you a letter notifying you that your child's Social Security number has already been used on another tax return.
What do I do if I think my child's identity is stolen?
Don't panic. Your first step should be to contact the three major credit bureaus to ask whether your child has a credit file. The credit bureaus should check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, as well as files related only to the child’s Social Security number. To check the file, the bureaus will likely request copies of documents including your child's birth certificate and Social Security card, as well as your own drivers' license and proof of address.
• Equifax: 888-298-0045 or www.equifax.com
• Experian: 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com
• TransUnion: 800-916-8800 or www.transunion.com
Ideally, they will tell you that your child doesn't have a credit file. If your child doesn't have a credit file, you should go ahead and freeze your child's credit with all three agencies, which will help prevent future problems. If any of the credit bureaus tell you that your child does have a credit report, it can be a sign of child identity theft and you may have some clean up work to do.
How can I fix my child's stolen identity?
If your child is impacted by identity theft, the process to fix the damage can be time consuming and the impact long-lasting. On average, it takes 330 hours to fix the damage caused by identity theft. For victims of child identity theft, the time required can be even greater because you'll have to take extra steps to show you're a legal guardian. Here are some of the steps you should take:
1. Start by contacting the companies where you know the identity thief used your child's personal information, and speak to the fraud department. Ask them to close any accounts that were fraudulently created using your child's Social Security number, and request a letter confirming the accounts are closed and your child isn't liable. You may need to send them a letter stating your child is a minor and unable to enter into contracts and attach a copy of your child's birth certificate.
2. Contact the credit bureaus. Reach out to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to let them know your child has been a victim of identity theft. Request that they remove any fraudulent accounts from your child's credit report because they are a minor and legally cannot enter into contracts. You will need to give them a copy of your child's birth certificate.
3. Freeze your child's credit with the credit bureaus. This restricts access to your child's credit and will prevent identity thieves from creating new accounts in their name.
4. Report the child identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting IdentityTheft.gov or calling 877-ID-THEFT. The website will provide an identity theft report and recovery plan, which you'll be able to update and use to track your process. You'll also have access to pre-filled form letters to send to creditors. If you call the FTC, they'll gather details related to the child identity theft, but you won't get the theft report/recovery plan.
5. You may also want to contact your local police department, especially if you know the identity thief or if they used your child's name in any police interactions, or if a company affected by the child identity theft asks you for a police report. Ask to speak to the person who handles identity theft. Make sure you request a copy of the police report - it can help as you deal with credit agencies and other businesses in trying to reverse charges and repair the damage.
How can I protect my child's information to prevent child identity theft?
Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a child's personal information, most often their social security number, to commit theft, such as opening financial accounts. The thief may be a stranger, a friend of the family, or even a family member. Child identity theft is an increasingly common crime, especially as data breaches are on the rise. Carnegie Mellon researchers found children's social security numbers are 51 times more likely to be used to open fraudulent accounts when their personal information is compromised in a data breach. Identity theft and fraud will impact about 25% of children by their 18th birthday, according to credit bureau Experian. More than one million children fell victim to identity theft in 2017, according to a 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy and Research.