Here’s a shocking stat: More than a million kids were the victims of child identity theft or fraud in 2017. Surprising, right? Well, there’s more. Javelin Research found that two-thirds of those kids were 7-years old or younger, and about 60% of the children affected knew the person who stole their identity.
Most parents don’t even realize that their kids are at risk of child identity theft. ID thieves know that most parents won’t monitor their child’s credit report or Social Security number, so often, these scams can go unnoticed for years until a child starts applying for college or credit cards.
Have you checked your child’s credit recently to ensure they haven’t become a victim? For most of us, the answer will be no. But we should make it a habit and keep our kids protected. After all, finding an issue now will be much easier to fix than finding one in 15 years.
Child identity theft: Why it happens
First, let’s talk about why these thieves target children. For starters, they know that a child’s record is going to be clean. They also know, as mentioned above, that they can get away with it for several years until someone notices.
What do they use a child’s Social Security number for? Usually to open credit accounts, rack up a bunch of debt, and then walk away…leaving your child to eventually discover that they’ve been a victim and may owe thousands of dollars from a crime that took place a decade ago. For the thief, it’s an offense that’s relatively easy to pull off without detection.
Freezing a credit report
The best thing you can do as a parent is to freeze your child’s credit report. After all, it’s not like they’re going to need it until they’re older. Here’s how you do it:
Experian doesn’t create a credit file for any child unless required to by law, OR a child becomes a victim of ID theft. You can get a free copy of a kid’s credit report for a small fee. It’s free if you can prove your child is a victim.
Equifax gives free freezes to parents for any child. You can request a freeze online or by calling 888-298-0045.
You can check to see if a child has a credit file with TransUnion by contacting the company. Just keep in mind that not all states allow credit freezes, and you might have to pay a fee.
You can freeze your child’s credit through Innovis, even if it’s not allowed in your state.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has the most up to date list of which states allow a child credit freeze. Twenty-nine states allow parents, legal guardians, or other representatives of minors to place a security freeze on the minor’s credit report: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Telltale signs that your kid may be a victim of child identity theft
- You get an IRS notice that your child has not paid their income taxes.
- You get an IRS notice that your child’s Social Security number was used to file a tax return.
- You get a notice from a collection agency in the name of your child for something you nor your child purchased.
- Either your or your child’s government benefits are canceled or rejected because there is another person getting benefits under your child’s Social Security number.
If you see any of these telltale signs, look up their credit report and see if anything is wrong—such as a loan that was taken out in their name or other signals that someone is using their credit. If something is up, contact the credit bureaus immediately and let them know your kid is a victim of child identity theft. You can also contact the company who the thief set up an account with and let them know that it’s fraud.
As with everything, the sooner you catch any issues and report them, the easier it will be to rectify and ensure your kid’s credit is clean again. And even if you don’t see any telltale signs, you should make it habit to check their credit each year just to be sure.
Identity theft can be a huge pain in the neck. So take the proper precautions, and make sure to protect the data on all of your devices. That means regular software updates, installing security software like an antivirus, and use Hotspot Shield to encrypt your data, making it unreadable to hackers should they ever try to get access to it—like when you’re connected to public WiFi in your local coffee shop. After all, staying vigilant is the best form of defense.