Child Identity Theft Happens More Than You Think. Here's How to Protect Your Kid(s)
October 19, 2022
By Cindy De La Torre
As if parents didn't have enough to worry about, research says there’s one more thing to watch for these days — safeguarding your children from identity theft.
Here's a startling figure — more than 1.3 million children's records are stolen every year, according to the Identity Theft Research Center. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon's CyLab reports that kids are 51 times more likely than their parents to have their Social Security number stolen.
You might not have thought about protecting your child's identity, especially if your kid isn't even using a bank account yet. But criminals can actually use that to their advantage.
How a child’s identity is stolen ...
Here are some common ways a thief is able to steal a child's identity:
» By a friend or family member
Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of child identity theft victims know the thief, according to the research. This is because immediate family members, relatives and family friends have close proximity to children’s life documents, like their social security number or birth certificate. With this information, a friend, family member — or sometimes even an estranged parent — takes advantage of a child’s good credit, opens a credit card or secures a loan, makes purchases, and doesn’t pay the bills. It can severely damage the child's credit, long before anyone realizes it. When the time comes to apply for their first loan or credit card, the damage will have already been done.
» Through social messaging apps
Criminals can also gain access to children’s information through social media apps, especially those with messaging capabilities like Twitch, Twitter or Facebook. Perpetrators posing as friends will take advantage of an “overly trusting minor.”
» Because of parents oversharing
Kids aren't the only ones who make mistakes, however. Parents who overshare on social media also make it easy for thieves to find basic information about a person’s identity, like their date and location of birth. Even a seemingly innocent birthday post could provide a thief with the key details they need to steal your child's identity.
» When schools are targeted
Our nation's educational institutions are facing a record-breaking number of security incidents, including school ransomware and data breaches — and those are just the ones that are publicly disclosed, according to the non-profit K12 Security Information Exchange (K12 SIX). Why is this? Schools are often seen as vulnerable targets, full of sensitive data that parents don't think twice about handing over.
Warning signs of child identity theft
Watch out for these red flags that someone has stolen your child's identity.
- Credit Card statements, bills, or pre-approved credit offers addressed to your child in the mail.
- Calls from collection agencies, asking for your child.
- An inaccurate medical bill or statement of benefits with your child's name.
- A notice your child owes back income tax.
What to do if your child's identity is stolen
If you suspect your child is a victim of identity theft, there are a few steps you should immediately take.
- Report the crime. File a police report with your local station, or report the fraud at IdentityTheft.gov.
- File a dispute with the credit reporting bureaus. Fill out the Federal Trade Commission's Uniform Minor's Status Declaration Form, and send the completed form to all three of the credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to request removal all inquiries, accounts and notices from your child's credit report.
- Contact your financial institution. Keeping your community bank in the loop will help them safeguard your child's information. They will also help walk you through the recovery process, if needed.
How to prevent child identity theft
There are some simple common steps you can take to safeguard your child’s identity.
1) Review your child's credit report.
Contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — to request that they search their database for a credit report in your child's name. Your child may have a report if they are a legitimate joint account holder with your or someone else; or, they may have a report because they are a victim of identity theft.
The links below will provide further direction on how to review your child's credit report:
- TransUnion has an online portal where parents or guardians can fill out a Child Identity Theft Inquiry form.
- Equifax requires parents or guardians to send documents by mail.
- Experian requires parents or guardians to send documents by mail.
2) Freeze your child's credit until they're 16.
If your child is under 16, you can request a free credit freeze for your child, which will prevent crooks from opening credit cards or loans on their behalf. Read our article on credit freezes for more information.
3) Be wary of handing over information — even to your school.
If your school asks for your child's social security number, you do not have to give it to them. By federal law, schools cannot require a child's social security number to be on record.
4) Monitor your child's online activity.
Search “parental control app” online to browse dozens of ways to monitor your child online, especially on social messaging platforms. If your child has a Bank account, tools like the SNB Mobile App make it easy to monitor their financial transactions.
5) Invest in digital security.
There are plenty of identity theft protection services available online, that can give you an extra layer of security. The non-profit SafeHome.org has vetted most of them, and recommends choosing between IdentityGuard®, Norton LifeLock or TransUnion's IdentityForce®.
6) Talk to your child(ren) about it.
Make the importance of cybersecurity a common topic of discussion with your kid(s). SNB tip: If your child is older, take our interactive crash course on Identity Theft, part of our free Financial Learning Center.
Above all else, set a positive online example with your own online behavior!
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