One of the most unfortunate types of identity theft is cases that involve children. Think of it this way: there’s a person—or several people—living in your household who has an identity, a birthdate, a Social Security number, even a medical insurance card, and that person won’t be looking at their information for years. A potential thief can have eighteen to twenty years ahead of him before your child ever discovers there’s a problem with his credit or personal identifying information.
I would love to say that cases involving child identity theft involve random criminals, but statistically, that’s not typically true. Too often, the person who stole the child’s identity is a relative, even the child’s own biological parent. In the case of parent-to-child identity theft, it’s easy to believe that it started out innocently enough: Mom or Dad got into a little bit of financial trouble, so they opened a credit card or took out a loan using their child’s pristine financial identity, fully intending to pay it off before anyone noticed. Unfortunately, the circumstances that led the parents to fall into unmanageable debt in the first place don’t magically resolve themselves and the child is left with a damaged credit rating. To make matters worse, he will only find out about it when he needs to fill out an application such as for employment or for financial aid for college.
Of course, situations do arise where someone outside of the household uses a child’s personally identifying information to open a credit card or a loan. Sometimes it’s a non-custodial parent, or a person who has reason to be in the home like a contractor or housekeeper. Billing departments in medical facilities that have access to your child’s identity are another known source of theft.
First, remember that almost no one needs your child’s Social Security number. You are within your rights to leave it blank when filling out an application, even for a school or doctor’s office, as long as you’ve provided other necessary forms of proof. Anywhere you give out that number is another opportunity for someone to use it for criminal purposes. The same is true for your medical insurance information; while a doctor’s office or hospital has obvious need of it, your child’s school, sports team, or other extracurricular activity does not.
If you have a legitimate reason to think that someone may have stolen your child’s identity, you can request copies of his or her credit report from the three reporting agencies. However, only do this if you have a strong suspicion that something has happened. You do not want to request a credit report just to check up on things. If you do request a report on your child, then a valid report has been established. That means if someone did try to open an account in your child’s name, there is already a record of reporting! It will make it far easier for that person to successfully open the account than if there is no record.
There have been a number of complaints from parents with legitimate concerns that they do not get a response from the credit reporting agencies. Remember, as the custodial parent or guardian, you are entitled to this information. Establish a paper trail by requesting the report in writing with all of the necessary information, then send it by certified mail with a return receipt requested. If you have not heard from the agency within thirty days of receiving your delivery confirmation, you can take the matter up with the Federal Trade Commission.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.