By Jocelyn Baird, NextAdvisor.com
One of the more insidious kinds of identity theft is child identity theft. Since children aren’t supposed to have credit in the first place, this crime is often not discovered until years after the fact, when the child has grown into an adult and goes to open their first credit card or apply for a loan. Realizing that what should be a pristine credit history has been tarnished is a devastating feeling, and it can leave both the young adult as well as their parents or guardians confused, angry and discouraged. Parents with children under 18 might be wondering if there’s any way for them to catch child identity theft closer to when it happens, rather than finding out years later. We’ve got the answer to that question as well as tips on proactively protecting your kids from identity theft.
Can you catch child identity theft early?
In some cases, yes. There are some warning signs to look out for, as outlined by the FTC, which can indicate that there might be a problem if you notice them. These include being turned down for government benefits because they’re already being paid to an account using your child’s social security number, receiving mail indicating that your child owes income taxes or that their social security number was used to file a return and receiving collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive in your child’s name. However, bear in mind that it’s still possible for your child’s information to be misused without any of these typical signs, so parents shouldn’t feel too much to blame if it happens without them realizing, as identity theft is a rampant crime in the U.S. that hits all kinds of people.
What should parents do if their child’s identity has been stolen?
If you notice any of the above signs (or any other suspicious activity surrounding your child’s name), you should contact each of the three major credit bureaus immediately and request a manual search for your child’s information in their files. You will also want to place fraud alerts on their credit files, if it turns out that identity theft has occurred. From there, you can work with the credit bureaus to repair the damage, as well as file a complaint with the FTC. You may also need to contact law enforcement to file a police report, which can be helpful for proving identity theft to creditors to get false information removed from your child’s credit reports. Other documents you may need to successfully dispute fraudulent information include your child’s birth certificate listing their parents, their social security card, your government-issued ID or documents proving you are the child’s legal guardian and proof of address, such as a utility bill. The FTC has created a website that allows victims of identity theft to file a report and get a personalized recovery plan, which it walks them through, which can take some of the stress out of the situation for you.
How to protect your kids from identity theft
Even if you don’t suspect your child has become the victim of identity theft, there are still plenty of things you can do to proactively protect them. Here are a few tips for doing so.
- Consider freezing their credit. We often recommend this step for adults, as placing a credit freeze is a solid method of protection against misuse of your personal information to open new credit accounts. Parents who are concerned about their children potentially becoming victims of identity theft might find this option appealing. As we explained in the past, only 27 states have laws that allow parents and legal guardians to request a credit freeze for a minor; Experian and Equifax will allow you to do so regardless of what state you live in, but TransUnion will only do it if your state’s laws authorize it. It’s certainly worth trying for the peace of mind it’ll give you.
- Safeguard their personal information. There’s a lot of peer pressure in our society for parents to overshare when it comes to their children. As much as you might want to post photos and details on every aspect of your kids’ lives on social media for the world to see, doing so could jeopardize your children’s identities. It’s also wise to take care with any documents containing sensitive information about your children and make sure you are aware of the data privacy policies at their schools, extracurricular activities and any medical offices they visit. If your children are older, talking to them about safety online and what information is and isn’t okay to share with others is important. Teaching responsible social media habits early can benefit your kids in many ways long after they’ve grown up and left the nest.
- Get help from an identity theft protection service. Parents aren’t superheroes, despite how their kids might see them, and there are certain things you just can’t do — such as continuously monitor various Internet black market sites for your child’s social security number, name and other information. Fortunately, identity theft protection services offer this kind of monitoring, along with other protections and benefits, such as identity restoration assistance, that will help in the event you or your family members become victims of identity theft. You can learn more about the best service for families by reading our blog post on the topic.
Protecting your kids in the Digital Age isn’t an easy feat, but it’s certainly possible when you know what dangers are lurking and how to fight back. Follow our identity theft protection blog for the latest news and tips in the fight against cybercriminals.