One in 40 households with children under 18 have dealt with child identity theft. Is your child the next victim?
At NerdWallet, we preach the importance of checking your credit report for errors and protecting yourself against identity theft. But findings in the 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report, sponsored by the the Identity Theft Assistance Center, show your whole family could be vulnerable.
When should you pull your child’s credit report?
Unlike you — who, we hope, pulls all three credit reports each year — your child probably won’t know if his identity has been compromised. After all, children under the age of 18 don’t apply for credit on their own. It should be your job to keep an eye out to make sure your child’s personal information isn’t being used to obtain credit.
Understand that your child probably shouldn’t have a credit report. He likely hasn’t applied for credit of any type, so if he has a credit report, it signals a problem. One exception: If you’ve added your child as an authorized or joint user on a credit account, it may have been reported to the credit bureaus. As in any case of identity theft, the sooner you find out, the better.
But how do you know when to check?
There are several red flags you should look out for:
- A debt collector is calling and asking for your child. It’s never a good sign when a debt collector is asking for a minor. Get the details from the collector and then pull your child’s credit report. Don’t pay anything until you figure out what’s going on.
- Bills are arriving at your house for your child. If credit card or utility bills are being delivered to your child, his identity may have been stolen. Pull your child’s credit report right away and call the individual companies to work things out.
- Your child is denied a bank account or driver’s license. If your child is denied a bank account, it could be because there’s negative banking information under his name. If he is denied a driver’s license, it could be because his information was stolen and used to apply for a license previously. In either case, pull your child’s report.
- Credit card offers for your child arrive frequently. Many minors will receive a few credit card offers, but if they are pouring in, someone may have applied for credit under your child’s name. If you feel they are coming too often, check your child’s credit report.
How do you request your child’s credit reports from each of the three bureaus?
Gather all the needed information to request your child’s credit reports. This includes legal name, address and date of birth, as well as copies of the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card. You’ll also have to prove your own identity by providing the bureaus with a copy of your photo ID (driver’s license or passport) and a copy of a current utility bill with your current address. In some cases, you’ll need proof of parenthood or legal guardianship, but you’ll be notified if this is the case.
You’ll need to include the information you’ve gathered as part of a written request to pull your child’s potential credit reports. Make sure to request reports from all three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Can you just freeze your child’s credit reports to avoid this?
Unfortunately, credit reports can’t be frozen until they exist. In this case, most likely they will only exist if your child’s identity has been stolen. So you can freeze your child’s credit reports, but Experian advises you first add victim statements to the reports. Victims of identity theft are granted strong protection and a freeze may be rendered unnecessary.
Bottom line: If any suspicious activity points to your child’s identity theft, attempt to pull his or her credit reports immediately. Don’t wait until your child reaches adulthood to request copies. And, of course, encourage your child to pull his or her own reports each year after the age of 18 to check for errors and discrepancies.