As part of our mission as a non-profit service organization, the Identity Theft Resource Center maintains a website and toll-free call center that allows individuals to reach out for help 24-hours a day, seven days a week. By keeping accurate records of the types of issues consumers contact the ITRC about, our organization can present a clearer picture of the types of identity theft that are most common and most harmful.
While still only a small portion of the calls to the ITRC—at around ten percent of the call volume in November—involve child identity theft, 2014 was particularly alarming due to the 300% increase in inquiries and reports over
the course of the year. In fact, child identity theft reports nearly doubled from January to February, and almost tripled from January to November.
What is child identity theft?
A child’s identity is stolen when someone uses their personally identifiable information to open accounts or make purchases under that identity. Long-term lines of credit are especially problematic since most parents don’t think to check their children’s credit reports until they’re applying for financial aid. This oversight—which stems from not thinking their children’s identities are in danger, and not any kind of negligence—is what makes child identity theft especially alluring to a thief.
There are two fairly common approaches a thief takes when stealing a child’s identity.
- A stranger accesses information on your child, such as through school records or a medical office. It’s a good idea to make sure no one has your child’s Social Security number unless it’s absolutely necessary. School forms and doctor’s office paperwork will request it, but you are not required to share it as it’s a violation of Social Security regulations to use the number as an identification number. In this type of situation, a thief is usually after a large block of identities, such as when employees at a school system in Florida stole the Social Security numbers and information on approximately four hundred students. They could use the data themselves, or make a profit by selling it.
- The other—and sadly, more common type of child identity theft occurs when a family member, sometimes even a parent, fraudulently uses a child’s data to open accounts, take out a loan, apply for benefits, or more. This type of child identity theft is especially upsetting because it means having to involve the authorities against a family member, someone who was close enough to the family to have access to the child’s documentation. It’s fairly typical that family members who steal a child’s identity are doing so because they’re already in dire financial straits, and have had to resort to obtaining money or credit through fraud. No one likes to think of calling the police against a family member who’s already struggling.
Unfortunately, just as with all forms of identity theft, that police report is the first vital step. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to claim there was a crime. Some families may be tempted to “work out a solution” and let the relative pay off the credit that was opened in the child’s name, but if someone has used the child’s identity to gain government benefits, to commit medical fraud, or to engage in some other kind of criminal activity, that cannot be swept under the rug. A car purchased in your child’s name can be paid off, but fraud can scar your child’s credit permanently and result in an inability for your child to apply for college financial aid, government benefits, or healthcare down the road.
How do you know if your child’s identity has been stolen? First, if you’re alerted to a data breach such as the one that took place in Florida, you’ll need to begin monitoring your child’s credit report. Second, if you have reason to believe someone close to you accessed the records, or if you begin receiving collections notices, bills you’re not familiar with, or if your child receives claims benefits statements, that should be a huge red flag that something’s not right with your child’s identity. You can even place a freeze on your child’s credit report if you suspect a problem, but keep in mind that unfreezing it is a mildly time consuming process that will need to be done well before applying for loans.
If you suspect that your child’s identity has been compromised, or you just want more information about this type of identity theft, please call our 24/7 toll-free call center at 888-400-5530, or review our solutions and fact sheets on the ITRC website.