We recently wrote a blog post offering concrete steps to protect yourself from identity theft. (See “What to do about the Equifax Hack.”) But what about those in your care? How do you protect your minor children?
While it’s unlikely that your children were affected by the Equifax breach, it’s possible that their identities have been compromised in other ways. According to the 2012 Child Identity Theft Report from Carnegie Mellon University’s Security and Privacy Research Institute, children are over 50 times more likely to become the victims of identity theft than adults of the same security breach demographic.
Typically, the motivation for child identity theft is to pair up an unused Social Security number with a fictitious name and birthdate to obtain a false ID for employment, to engage in financial fraud, or (in perhaps the most distressing scenario) when a trusted family member or friend uses a child’s identity to avoid the consequences of their own bad credit.
Often child identity theft is not discovered for years, perhaps not even until young adulthood when these ‘children’ are applying for their first loan. It can derail the best education planning if your college-bound teen tries to obtain a student loan only to be told that his or her credit was destroyed years ago with unpaid bills and maxed out credit cards.
How To Know If Your Child’s Identity Was Compromised
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you may wish to monitor and freeze your child’s credit proactively. However, there are some red flags that warrant immediate action as these may indicate your child’s identity has already been compromised.
- Has your child received any mail in his or her name for pre-approved credit card offers?
- Has an actual credit card bill, collection notice, or a jury summons been mailed to your child?
- Have you received a letter from the IRS saying your child owes income taxes?
- Do you get collection calls or bills from unfamiliar vendors?
- Was your teen driver notified of citations or unpaid parking tickets when applying for a driver’s license for the first time?
It’s a good idea to check a child’s credit well before they have to apply for a job, a loan, or to rent an apartment, so that you have time to correct any errors due to fraud or misuse. Currently laws allowing parents and guardians to freeze credit reports for minors are on a state-by-state basis, although there is proposed federal legislation to address the issue.
How To Protect Your Child’s Credit
The first step is to reach out to each of the four major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis) and request a manual search for any items associated with your child’s name or Social Security number. (Make sure to keep good records of dates you contact the credit bureaus, representatives you speak with, a summary of what was discussed during the call, and copies of any documents mailed.)
If any erroneous or fraudulent items are found, follow the Federal Trade Commission’s process to report and repair the damage.
Hopefully nothing will be found, signifying that your child’s credit has not been compromised. To keep your child’s credit secure, parents can request that each bureau create a credit file for the minor which is then immediately frozen. (The bureaus may charge a fee for the freeze based on your state.)
Activating your child’s credit report and then freezing it is somewhat more difficult than freezing our own credit. It can’t usually be done online and there is more documentation needed to verify a minor’s identity and your authority to monitor their credit. The Federal Trade Commission has created a handy Uniform Minor Status Declaration to help streamline the process.
The following documentation is usually required to be mailed to the credit bureaus along with your request:
- A copy of your minor child’s birth certificate
- A copy of your minor child’s Social Security card
- Proof of your identity/residency
And here are the links to the Minor Child Credit Freeze process for each bureau:
In addition to going through the credit freeze process on behalf of your child, limit sharing your child’s Social Security number as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s school or doctor’s office if the use of your child’s Social Security number is mandatory or if another identifier can be used, and make sure to talk to your child about safeguarding his or her information.
Like many forms of modern identity theft, child identity theft is usually a crime of opportunity and you can minimize the risk through a few proactive measures. Hopefully, this will help our children one day avoid the hardship and hassle of restoring their stolen identities.
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