Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a minor’s personal information to get loans, open credit cards, steal benefits or secure employment– all under a child’s name. One in 50 children in the U.S. are victims of child identity theft yearly, making it crucial for parents to take steps to protect their children from identity theft.
Continue reading to learn more about child identity theft and the steps you can take to protect your child.
Why Would Someone Want To Steal a Child’s Identity?
Children are among the most common targets for identity theft because their credit is essentially a blank slate since they haven’t built credit yet. Because parents don’t actively monitor their children’s credit reports, this means a child’s stolen identity can go undetected for years. Most victims of child identity theft may not notice that they’re victims until they apply for student loans or attempt to purchase their first car.
How Child Identity Theft Happens
A child’s identity can be stolen in many ways, including by family members, through social media scams, from public data breaches, through compromised accounts and through physical theft.
One of the most common perpetrators of child identity theft is someone the victim knows, and in most cases, it’s someone in the victim’s family. Family members can easily access a child’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) because they know where they live and are given implicit trust. With access to a child’s Social Security number, committing child identity theft is easy for family members to do because most parents and children have trust in those individuals.
When children sign up for social media accounts, they’re often unaware of the risks that come with having them, which include common cyber threats like scams. When children aren’t aware of these online threats, they may unknowingly give out personal information that could be used to steal their identity.
Public data breaches
Public data breaches occur when companies you have accounts or services with have customer and employee personal information exposed. Public data breaches are usually the result of employee mistakes or a successful cyber attack. Depending on what a company stores, the data that is exposed varies.
Here’s an example. Let’s say the clinic you take your child to experiences a data breach that exposes some patient personal information and your child is a part of it. Since your child had their personal information exposed, they could have their identity stolen as a result of the breach.
Compromised online accounts
A compromised online account is when an account gets hacked, meaning an unauthorized individual was able to gain access to it. A compromised account is more likely to happen to individuals who use weak and reused passwords since they can be easily guessed or cracked. If someone can compromise one of your or your child’s accounts that contains their sensitive information such as their Social Security number, this can also lead to child identity theft.
Physical theft of personal information
Most of us believe that because we keep our Social Security numbers, passports and Identification Cards (IDs) in our homes, this means they aren’t going to get stolen. However, if you’re keeping these items in unsecured locations, it’s possible for almost anyone to get their hands on them, especially people you believe don’t have bad intentions like family members and friends.
Signs Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
Here are some of the signs that your child’s identity has been stolen.
- Your child is receiving bills under their name
- Your child is getting mail for pre-approved credit cards
- You’re receiving calls from collection agencies asking for your child
- Your child is being denied government benefits and school loans
- Your child has a credit file under their Social Security number
- You’re unable to claim your child as a dependent on your taxes because it says they’ve already filed
What To Do if Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
If your child’s identity has been stolen, these are the four steps you need to take immediately.
1. Report the identity theft to the FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a federal agency that helps individuals compile information about identity theft cases. To file a report with the FTC, visit www.identitytheft.gov. Make sure to provide the FTC with as much information as you can about your child’s identity theft. Once you’ve filed a report with the FTC, you’ll be provided with a recovery plan, pre-filled forms and letters that’ll be useful throughout the recovery process.
2. Freeze your child’s credit
To freeze your child’s credit, contact the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Make sure to contact each of the three bureaus – contacting one bureau and not the other places your child’s credit at risk since lenders use different credit scoring models.
Freezing your child’s credit will prevent anyone from being able to access their credit report until the freeze is lifted. If the perpetrator attempts to open another line of credit, they won’t be able to get approval while it’s frozen.
If you know the person who stole your child’s identity, contact your local law enforcement to press charges against them. Some financial institutions may also require a police report of identity theft to file disputes.
4. Request a new SSN
If you believe the perpetrator was able to steal your child’s identity because they stole their Social Security number, request a new SSN for your child. You can request a new SSN by visiting the U.S. Social Security Administration website.
5. Inform debt collectors that your child was a victim of identity theft
If a perpetrator is able to open credit lines and take out loans under your child’s name, your child’s credit will suffer. If you start receiving calls from debt collectors asking for your child, let them know that your child was a victim of identity theft and they should no longer contact you. Having a police report in hand will be useful when attempting to have that debt erased from your child’s credit report.
How To Protect Your Children Against Child Identity Theft
Here are six steps you should take to protect your child’s identity from theft.
1. Check if your child has a credit report
Most children don’t have credit reports, but if they do have one and it wasn’t initiated by you or your child, it means someone has attempted to steal their identity or already has. You can check to see if your child has a credit report by entering your and your child’s information on Experian’s Child Identity Theft Protection page.
2. Place your child as an authorized user on your credit card
The best way to ensure that your child does not become a victim of child identity theft is to freeze their credit, but you can’t freeze a child’s credit unless they actually have credit. It’s recommended to make your child an authorized user on your credit card so they have a credit report. Not only will making your child an authorized user help them keep safe from identity theft, but it’ll also start building your child’s age of credit early on, which will be beneficial to them in the future.
3. Place a security freeze on your child’s credit report
If your child is under the age of 16, you can place a minor security freeze on their credit report by contacting each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. When freezing your child’s credit, you’ll be asked to provide proof of your identity and your child’s identity, and provide proof that you’re their parent or legal guardian.
4. Be cautious about whom you share your child’s SSN with
Before providing anyone with your child’s Social Security number, you should be extra cautious about who you’re giving it out to. If your child’s doctor requires their SSN, ask if they need the full number or if you can just provide them with the last four digits. If your child’s school requires their SSN, ask them what protections they have in place to keep it secure and who will have access to it.
5. Shred sensitive documents that contain your child’s PII
Any document you have that contains your child’s PII, such as their SSN, birth date and more, should be shredded as soon as you no longer need it. This will prevent anyone with malicious intent from being able to use the information to steal your child’s identity.
Any documents you still need that contain your child’s personal information, such as their Social Security card, birth certificate and passport, should always be kept in a secure location like a safe.
6. Teach your children the importance of online safety
Children who are now growing up with the internet need to be taught about the importance of staying safe online. Talk to your child about what information they shouldn’t be sharing online with other people. Be sure to also talk to your child about the importance of securing their online accounts and guide them in the process of creating them. A family password manager is a great tool you can use with your kids to make sure they’re creating strong passwords for each of their online accounts and enabling Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) when given the option.
Keep Your Children’s Identity Safe From Theft
Child identity theft can make it challenging for your child to apply for student loans or make big purchases in the future such as buying a home or their first car – but there are steps both you and your child can take to keep their identity safe.
Password managers like Keeper® can help your child keep their identity safe by helping them secure their online accounts. Our online accounts contain a lot of personal information that can be used maliciously if it gets into the wrong hands. To see how a password manager can help keep your family safe from cyber threats like identity theft – try a free 30-day trial of Keeper’s personal password manager.