I discussed a few weeks ago a Consumer Reports article that highlighted the growing problem of identity theft and what to do if you think someone has stolen your identity. We don’t often think though about the possibility that our children could be the victims of identity theft. Unfortunately, it can and does happen sometimes. A study done by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab showed that 10.2% of children have had someone else use their social security number.
Why are children targets of identity theft?
Thieves may target children precisely because we don’t necessarily think about the need to protect their identity. As adults even if we aren’t actively seeking to protect our identity, chances are we’ll still stumble across the fact something is wrong if we start to notice strange charges on our accounts or perhaps we are applying for credit and are turned down. Chances are though that our children aren’t engaging in the kinds of activities that are likely to catch the fact their identity has been stolen.
This is why they are such inviting targets. If a thief can steal a child’s social security number he might be able to use it for several years to obtain credit, sign up for government benefits, obtain medical care, even get a car loan or a mortgage. If the thief is careful about how he does things, the child might not even discover the problems until they try to obtain credit for themselves someday.
Sadly, some of the most common “thieves” are often relatives or close friends who have managed to acquire the necessary information about the child.
What can be done to prevent identity theft
Many of the same things that you would do to protect your own identity apply equally as well to your children.
- First be very careful with sensitive information about your child. Obviously, you should guard their social security number very closely. Be very cautious to only give it out if absolutely necessary and then only if you are 100% sure the request is legitimate.
- Ask questions about how your child’s personal information is used at school. What steps are taken to safe guard it? How are old records disposed of?
- If your children have accounts on social media sites, discuss with them the importance of being careful with what they share. Things like birth dates or addresses provide information that makes it easier for those seeking to steal their identity. You should also make sure they understand the need for strong passwords that are not easily guessed and that they don’t share those passwords with others.
- It is important also to have good anti-virus software that updates automatically on any computers they regularly use.
- You also should make sure they understand the nature of phishing scams. Phishing is where crooks will create very realistic looking web sites or e-mails that look identical to what you might receive from your bank, for example. They then entice you to enter personal identification information that they can then use to steal your identity. Advise your children if they receive any requests to enter this kind of information online to let you know.
- Lastly, you can pull their credit report on a regular basis. If they are 13 or older you may simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request a copy of their credit report once a year the same as you would do for your own report. If they are under 13 you will need to contact the three credit agencies directly to get a copy. When you receive the report you should not see anything there that is not legitimate. Most likely you may get a message that there is not enough information to create the report. If so, that’s fine. It simply means they have no credit history.
When should you be suspicious?
If you start to see any of the following activities, you should be concerned that someone may be using your child’s identity:
- You start receiving credit requests in your child’s name.
- A bill collector calls referencing your child.
- You get a call about job references for your child.
- You get a notice from the IRS after filing your return that your child’s information was listed on another return.
- You get a notice from the IRS that your child has failed to pay taxes on income received but they have no job.
- A close relative or friend that had access to your child’s information shows sudden unexplained signs of prosperity.
If you see any of these kinds of activities or any other unexpected activities that would require your child’s identity, it is possible that someone is using their information.
What if I think my child’s identity has been stolen?
If you believe your child may have been a victim, then basically the steps to clean this up are the same as the steps would be for an adult. You will want to alert the 3 credit reporting agencies and place a fraud victim alert on your child’s account. You can also freeze their credit to help prevent new accounts from being opened. (This is actually not a bad step to take even if you don’t believe your child’s identity has been stolen.) You will also need to file a police report and report the theft to the FTC. Contact any creditors that are listed with fraudulent accounts and make them aware that the account was not created by your child. I discussed these steps in 7 Steps to follow if you are the victim of identity theft.
Additionally, the FTC has a great article on their website with helpful information on guarding your child’s identity and what to do if you feel it has been stolen. It can be found at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt08.pdf
Sadly, these things do happen in our society today. My intent here isn’t to scare, but to simply raise awareness. As parents we need to be just as careful about protecting our child’s personal information as we would protecting their physical safety. Be careful who has access to sensitive information about your child and if you observe anything suspicious, don’t hesitate in looking into it.
What steps have you taken to protect your child’s information?
Photo credit: Jeffrey creative commons