Protecting your child’s identity (and their credit)
When you think about identity theft, you may think about those big data breaches that seem to happen every few months, or you may even think of someone rooting around in your garbage, looking for unshredded documents with unique identifying information. The key is, when you think about identity theft, you’re probably thinking about your identity. Unfortunately, if you have children, you need to also be thinking about protecting their identity.
It’s estimated that nearly half a million children have their identity stolen or compromised every year. And while it may seem absurd that someone could open up a credit card using your infant child’s Social Security number, it happens far too often to ignore. Even worse, if it goes undetected, it can really come back to bite your child once they’ve grown up and need to begin establishing their credit.
There is no foolproof method to prevent identity theft, but there are certainly steps you can take to help reduce the risk. First and foremost, be careful to safeguard any and all important documents and identification numbers. When providing your child’s Social Security number, be sure that you understand how it will be used. It’s also a good practice to keep any sensitive documents, including their Social Security card, in a secure location, like a safe.
Initial warning signs
Child receives credit-related offers in the mail. Your child should not be pre-approved for a Discover card. If they start receiving such offers in the mail it’s usually a sign that someone has used their identity to open credit accounts.
You receive bills for goods or services purchased in your child’s name. While it’s very possible that your son or daughter went online and made their own rogue purchases, if they claim that the bills they’re receiving are a mistake, there’s a chance their identity has been stolen.
You’re unable to sign your child up for government benefits or services because their Social Security number is already in use. Any time your son or daughter’s Social Security number is “already in the system”, that’s a big red flag.
You’re unable to open a bank account for the child. If you attempt to open a savings account for your child, you may find that they already have an established credit history and it’s not so good. This is another sign of potential identity theft.
If you think your child’s identity may have been stolen, your first step should be to request a copy of their credit report from all three major reporting bureaus. Keep in mind, of course, that ideally a child shouldn’t have a credit report at all, because until you’ve actually used a credit product, there’s technically nothing to report.
Receiving a credit report for a child can be tricky, and may require that you submit multiple pieces of ID, including copies the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card, as well as the your driver’s license.
Once you have the report you can assess the damage and begin the work to repair your child’s credit and reclaim their identity. This process can include:
- Filing a police report
- Placing a fraud alert in your child’s credit report
- Filing a fraud report with the FTC
- Creating an identity theft report
- Contacting each listed creditor and asking that they remove all fraudulent charges and close all related accounts
The sooner you take these steps, the better, especially if your child is over 16 and approaching the age where they may begin applying for jobs, loans, or an apartment.