An 8-year-old registers titles for several cars, a 14-year-old is past due on dozens of utilities and an 11-year-old is hounded by the IRS for undeclared factory income. These stories characterize how many people learn that their child has become one of the 140,000 cases of child identity fraud each year in the U.S.1
How thieves steal children’s identities
People often associate identity theft with big data breaches, email phishing and other Internet or mail scams. Identity criminals, though, often target children – and there’s a reason for that. While children’s personal information is usually not as widely dispersed as most adults’ (across employment, housing and medical records, etc.), the relative anonymity of children makes them susceptible to identity theft.
Children typically have no credit histories, criminal records, housing records or employment records. Most children under 18 have little to no discernible paper trail or digital history, making them excellent targets for fraud.
Using a child’s identity, a thief can apply for a loan or credit card, defraud the IRS by using information on employment and tax records, and conceal the evidence of a criminal past from employers and landlords. Once a child’s information has been stolen, it may take months before parents become aware, and even then, expunging the record of illegitimate purchases or activity from a child’s credit can be difficult.
While a child’s personal information can be found in medical and school records, or obtained through mail and email schemes, in many cases the culprit in a child’s stolen identity case is someone related to the child, like a parent or close relative. Occasionally, those who cannot pay their debts will extend lines of credit under a child’s name that they secure themselves. Foster children, in particular, are at risk.2
Protecting your child’s identity
Several signs can alert a parent that a child’s identity has been stolen, including:
- Bills or collections for items or services you did not purchase
- IRS notifications that your child has not filed his or her taxes
- Notices for outstanding bills for vehicles, loans or utilities
If you suspect that your child’s identity has been stolen, you should do the following:
- Check your child’s credit score, using his or her social security number
- Inform any of the major credit reporting agencies of the fraud:
You need only inform a single agency — it will inform the other two.
- If necessary, request a credit freeze from the credit reporting agency, if this measure is available in your state of residence
- File an identity theft report with the FTC
Children and the internet: best practices
In order to help prevent child identity theft, consider taking the following precautions:
- Keep sensitive documents in safe locations
- Shred sensitive documents before disposing of them
- Never disclose your child’s SSN to strangers or send sensitive information through email
- Discuss safe Internet browsing practices with your children and instruct them not to give out sensitive information to sites or over email. Consider monitoring the sites your children visit
- Protect your computer with antivirus, firewall and anti-spyware protection in case your child accidentally clicks on fraudulent links or ads
While some may believe that identity theft concerns only adults, children can also be targeted. By following the steps listed above to safeguard your child’s information and paying attention to signs of suspicious activity, you can reduce the likelihood of your child’s identity being stolen.