3 Ways to Protect Your Child from Identity Theft
Protect your child from identity theft by freezing their credit reports, being cautious about sharing their personal information, and watching for red flags.
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Identity theft is a common problem in the United States and beyond. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received close to 1.4 million identity theft reports from U.S. consumers. In fact, every two seconds someone becomes of victim of identity theft.
The crime of identity theft takes place when a thief steals and uses personal information that belongs to someone else — typically to commit some sort of fraud. Child identity theft is a special type of identity theft where the personal information that the criminal steals belongs to a minor.
Child identity theft is especially troublesome because it often goes undetected for a long period of time. Your child likely isn't using their Social Security number, date of birth, and other personal details to apply for financing on a frequent basis. So, your son or daughter might not realize that anything is wrong until long after an identity thief has stolen and abused their personal information.
The good news is that there are steps you can take as a parent to help protect your child's personal information. The three tips below may be a helpful place to start.
- Freeze your child's credit reports.
You can't always keep your child's personal identifying information out of the hands of people with bad intentions– consider some of the infamous data breaches that have occurred over the past several years. When a health insurance provider or another company is the victim of a data breach that exposes the information of millions of people (including children), there's not much you can do about such situations.
Yet you can take actions that limit what thieves may be able to do with your child's information if they get their hands on it. A credit freeze is one such solution.
When you freeze your child's credit files with Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, it restricts access to your credit information. If a criminal tries to use your child's stolen personal details to apply for a fraudulent account after a credit freeze, the lender would be unable to access your son or daughter's credit reports. In all likelihood, the lender would deny the phony application and your child would avoid a potential headache.
Freezing credit reports for your child is free of charge. However, you do need to contact each credit reporting agency on an individual basis to place the freeze.
Note that once your child is old enough to apply for credit in their own name, they will need to lift the security freezes at the appropriate credit bureaus before filling out new applications for financing.
- Be cautious about sharing your child's personal information.
It's important to be cautious about when you share your child's personal information — especially their Social Security number and date of birth. You'll also want to safeguard your son or daughter's name, address, email address and more, and teach them to do the same.
Here are a few rules you may want to consider following.
- Don't give out your child's personal details on incoming phone calls as the calls could be phishing scams.
- Educate your child about online safety and the importance of not sharing personal details with strangers (including oversharing on social media).
- If your child uses social media, make sure their privacy settings are restricted to “friends” rather than “public.”
- Monitor your child's use of social media if you allow it.
- Store sensitive documents in a secure location.
- Avoid giving out your child's Social Security number when possible (e.g., afterschool care, extracurricular activity providers, etc.) and consider switching providers if a company insists on the information.
- Watch for red flags.
Identity theft is a crime that can often go undetected for days, months, or even years after a thief steals your personal information. Unless you have a credit monitoring subscription set up to watch for changes in your credit reports and FICO® Scores, you might not realize that there's a problem when someone fills out an unauthorized loan or credit card application in your name.
Minors are less likely to be on the lookout for these types of problems. So, identity theft could go unnoticed for a longer period of time. Yet there are red flags that might alert you to the fact that someone may be using your child's personal information without permission. Below are several examples.
- Statements and bills. When your child has credit card or loan statements show up in the mail for accounts that they didn't open, it could be a sign of fraud.
- Collection calls or letters. Collection calls or notices in the mail could also be a sign that your underage son or daughter is a victim of identity theft.
- Pre-approved offers of credit and insurance. If your child begins to receive pre-approved offers of credit or insurance in the mail, it could be the sign of a problem.
Minors who are under 18 years of age usually do not have credit reports. But if you suspect that your child is a victim of identity theft, you might want to do some research of your own.
All three major credit bureaus will allow you to request a copy of your minor child's credit report (if one exists). However, you may need to provide documentation such as copies of your son or daughter's Social Security card and birth certificate, along with a copy of your current driver's license, to access the information.
- Equifax Minor Credit Report Request Form
- TransUnion Child Identity Theft Inquiry Form
- Experian Minor Credit Report Request Form
If you confirm that your child is indeed an identity theft victim, you will also want to report the identity theft, starting with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file a fraud report online at IdentityTheft.gov.
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