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How to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft

Keeping your child's Social Security number private is key to protecting his or her credit. You might also be able to freeze his or her credit file.
June 7, 2018
Credit Score, Personal Finance
Should You Freeze Your Child's Credit?
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For parents, protecting your kids is second nature. You cover the electrical outlets, strap them into car safety seats and tell them not to talk to strangers.

But how often do you leave the section of forms requesting their Social Security numbers blank?

A child’s personal data, particularly Social Security number, makes a tempting target for identity thieves. That’s because a child’s Social Security number is generally not associated with accounts that have been paid late, gone to collections or worse. In the hands of a thief, kids’ pristine records can be used to set up utilities, establish credit, apply for government benefits and sometimes even receive medical care.

So how do you keep your kids safe from identity theft? As of late September, you’ll be able freeze kids’ credit, thanks to a provision in the rollback of the Dodd-Frank Act. You can already do it in some states. We outline proactive steps for parents to guard against child identity theft.

In this article:

What is child identity theft?
How to protect your child from identity theft
What if you suspect child identity theft or your child is a victim?
Should you pre-emptively freeze a child’s credit?
How to freeze a child’s credit

What is child identity theft?

Child identity theft is when someone misuses a child’s personal data, usually for financial gain. About 4% of identity theft complaints involve a victim 19 or younger, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

But actual numbers may be higher because the crime can go undiscovered for years. Almost nobody checks the credit records of people who have never used credit.

The crime may be discovered when a young adult applies for student loans and learns his or her Social Security number is already associated with an account.

Thieves may even “create” a consumer by blending a Social Security number with a different name, address and birthdate, a practice called synthetic identity theft.

Credit bureaus do not knowingly create credit files for minors. But they have no way of verifying that a Social Security number actually belongs to the person using it, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit offering help with identity theft prevention and recovery.

  

How to protect your child from identity theft

You can practice good habits to guard against child identity theft and teach your child to do the same.

  • Protect Social Security numbers by leaving forms requesting them blank until and unless you are told why they are required and how they will be protected.
  • Pay attention to mail. While preapproval offers in your child’s name do not always suggest identity theft, they are worth investigating. Correspondence from a collection agency addressed to your child is a huge red flag.
  • Keep your child’s documents locked away safely. Birth certificates or Social Security cards should not be in your purse, wallet or car. Safeguard anything with that information in your own home. That means keeping paperwork with Social Security numbers inaccessible, possibly in a home safe or locked file cabinet, inaccessible to service people and visitors.

Parents and other guardians also need to understand that a child’s data is not theirs to use, even if a child is in their care, says Eva Casey Velasquez, president and CEO at the Identity Theft Resource Center. Parents or foster parents have sometimes used children’s unblemished records with noble intentions, say, to get utilities connected or to set up mobile devices so that they can keep in touch with the family. But such actions constitute identity theft.

Guarding personal data isn’t the ultimate solution, but it’s what we can do now. “A Social Security number should not be used as a verifier,” says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “We need a better way to verify identity. Ultimately, that’s the solution.”

What if you suspect child identity theft or your child is a victim?

You may be able to freeze your child’s credit depending on where you live.

It may also depend on whether your child already has a credit report, as a child might if you’ve made him or her an authorized user on one of your credit cards. You can find out if your child has a credit report by contacting the three major credit bureaus.

If you want to freeze your child’s credit and he or she has no file, you might be able to get one created by making your child an authorized user on a card that reports to the credit bureaus.

The new law requires that a file be established just for the purpose of guarding your child’s Social Security number against credit fraud if a freeze is requested. 

Should you pre-emptively freeze a child’s credit?

Freezing your child’s credit can be a good thing, Velasquez says. It can keep your child’s Social Security number from being used fraudulently to open credit accounts.

Velasquez warns that if you do this when a child is an infant, you’ll need to keep track of the personal identification numbers required to unfreeze that child’s credit for nearly two decades. That could mean through moves, deaths or divorce.

And freezing credit protects against only one type of misuse. If your child’s Social Security number or other personally identifying information is out there, it can be used to obtain government benefits or get medical care, Velasquez says.

Still, freezing a child’s credit is worth considering, says Wu.

How to freeze a child’s credit

Freezing credit means not allowing anyone to access your credit information. It prevents someone from opening an account with your personal data without your knowledge.

To freeze a child’s credit, you’ll need the same sort of documentation you’d use to freeze an adult’s. In addition, you’ll need a birth certificate and proof that you have standing to freeze credit. If a child has no existing credit file, some states require that credit bureaus establish one so that it can be frozen.

Here’s how to contact each credit bureau about children’s credit files:

 

 

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