Depending on the age of your child, you may not be worried about his or her identity being stolen. However, 1.3 million children are impacted by identity theft or fraud each year (Chappel, 2016), and a recent study indicated that up to 10% of America’s youth have potentially been targets of identity theft. As students head back to school at any grade, they will be asked for personally identifiable information. While school officials are trustworthy, the more information is out in the world, the more easily it can be accessed by identity thieves.
The large majority of children under the age of 18 have blank credit profiles which make them uniquely valuable to identity thieves: because there’s no credit profile established, children’s social security numbers they can be paired with any name to buy cars, apply for loans, open credit cards, or procure a driver’s licenses.
What makes child identity theft particularly troubling is that it can go unnoticed for several years leaving a complete financial disaster for the child when they turn 18 and begin applying for student loans, credit cards, mobile phones, or an apartment. If the incident occurred years in the past, it can be virtually impossible to track down the criminal.
How does this happen? Even more so than adults, children’s social security numbers are used frequently as a form of identification at schools, doctor’s offices, and any number of extracurricular activities. If a child’s social security number is easily accessible in a written file or on an unprotected computer network, it could be targeted by identity thieves. Additionally, credit bureaus do not have checks in place to verify the age on credit applications. An individual’s credit profile begins when the first application is received. If the application says 26, then the credit bureaus will assume that’s true.
While it’s impossible to absolutely prevent identity theft, there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce your child’s risk:
- If your child’s social security number is being requested, it’s always okay to ask why it’s needed and if it’s completely necessary. In most cases, an alternative identification number can be created.
- Don’t carry your child’s social security card with you. If your wallet or purse is ever lost or stolen, this could cause some big problems for you both in the future.
- Shred or destroy any documents with your child’s social security number, such as medical or school records. If they need to be retained, make sure they are kept in a secure location.
- Talk to you kids about the importance of identity security. Let them know that they should never share their phone number, address, or social security number with anyone unless there is a parent present.
- Keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If credit card offers are arriving at your house with your child’s name on them, it’s a good sign that something isn’t right.
- Once a year, ensure that your child’s credit is untouched by attempting to pull a credit report from any number of free credit report sites. If your child’s credit is secure, the credit bureau will not be able to provide a report. If you do request a credit report and one is returned, you should take immediate action.
Taking steps to protect your child’s identity is an important way to ensure that when they set off on their life as an adult, they aren’t starting with the winds against them. If your child has experienced identity theft, or you are concerned about his or her rights, reach out to your Legal Resources Plan Attorney and schedule an appointment to review next steps.