Most people don’t think about identity theft being a problem for children, but kids are actually at great risk since they can do little to protect themselves. Criminals can actually use the Social Security numbers of children to procure credit cards, loans, apply for government benefits and pay utilities and mortgages.One victim spoke of her experience to a local CBS news affiliate, saying that she only discovered the theft when she applied for a car loan as an adult.
“I had my credit pulled and there were loads of things that I never opened. Most of them were when I was 12,13,14 years old. They told me I’m sorry, you’re denied. Your credit score was in the 500’s. I was completely devastated.”
When she looked at her credit report, the victim found utilities, credit cards, cable and furniture expenses amounting to more than $27,000 worth of debt. It turned out that the victim’s mother was responsible for the identity theft, having felt entitled to use her child’s information as she wished.
This is apparently not an uncommon problem, as law enforcement agencies frequently find identity theft to be a family issue, with parents, caregivers or housekeepers being among the first suspected if a crime occurs. As a result, child identity theft often goes underreported, because children don’t want to prosecute their parents or guardians.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that 140,000 children a year become victims of identity theft and, according to a study conducted by researches at Carnegie Mellon University, children are 51 times more likely than adults to have their Social Security numbers stolen.
How You Can Tell If Your Child Is A Victim
As a parent, you’re probably not requesting your young kids’ credit reports to check their financial standing. So, how can you find out if they’ve been victimized before they’re adults applying for school loans or trying to buy a house? Pay attention to these factors:
- If you’ve been turned down for government benefits because you are supposedly already receiving them, then it’s time to dig deeper. Someone else may have used your child’s information to apply before you did.
- Receiving collection calls or bills for things you didn’t buy is another sound warning sign.
- Your kid’s data may have been compromised if you receive an official notice from the IRS telling you that your child failed to file income taxes.
If you’ve experienced any or all of these signs, order your child’s credit report and look for strange or foreign information.
How You Can Protect Your Child
There are some ways you can protect your child’s identity:
- Keep documents secure: Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card around with you. Be sure to lock up their identifying documents, including birth certificates and passports.
- Restrict your social media posts: Be aware of what information you’re posting on social media sites. If your children are old enough, talk to them about the dangers of sharing their full name or personal data online.
- Talk to the school: Ask your child’s school about their record-keeping policies and practices. Many school forms require parents to write down sensitive information, and you have every right to make sure these files stay secure.
You can also register for credit monitoring services, which can alert you to certain activities that may indicate fraud. Nobody wants their child to begin life in debt, or with an elaborate lie to untangle. So take some defensive measures now.