Info Sheet – Child Identity Theft
This information sheet is for parents and legal guardians of someone under the age of 18 who may be experiencing identity theft.
What is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft occurs when the personal identifying information (most commonly a Social Security number) of someone under the age of 18 is used by an imposter for financial gain or to avoid criminal prosecution. The imposter could be a stranger, someone who knows the family or even a family member.
Minors can’t legally acquire credit, take out loans, or have a bank account without a parent or guardian co-signing. What this effectively means for an identity thief is if they are able to acquire a child’s personal identifying information, they’re far more likely to have an extended period of time where they can use the information without it being noticed.
Identity thieves use minor children’s information in the same ways an adult’s information can be used. Creditors, the credit reporting agencies, and government agencies do not know how old someone is just by their Social Security number. All they can see is the number, the credit history, and a name.
Indicators of possible child identity theft are:
- Calls from collection agencies regarding bills or credit cards in your child’s name.
- Your child’s name appearing on caller ID (indicating that someone may be using your child’s information to establish an account).
- Your child’s personal documents (Social Security Card, birth certificate, etc.) are stolen or missing.
- Your child gets a notice about a warrant for a traffic violation or for taxes owed.
- Your child is denied government assistance or medical insurance because income or benefits have already been assigned to the child’s Social Security number. You might also be told they want to verify employment for a job where the child has never worked.
- A notice from the IRS that your child’s name and/or Social Security number is already listed on another tax return (if the person claiming your child is NOT a parent or legal guardian).
- Receiving a pre-approved credit card offer in your child’s name.
- Do not carry your child’s Social Security Card or papers with this number unless necessary.
- Think twice before providing your child’s Social Security number. You do not need to provide your child’s SSN to enroll your child in school or for your child to attend school nor do you need to provide your child’s Social Security number at a doctor’s office.
- Shred all papers that contain your child’s personal information with a cross-cut shredder.
- Consider obtaining a state identification card for your child at your state’s licensing office and/or consider obtaining a passport for your child. A verified form of identification is not only useful, and sometimes necessary, for travel, it can also prevent a thief from falsifying a state ID or passport using your child’s stolen information. Keep in mind there will be fees associated with obtaining these documents and you’ll have to safeguard the documents to prevent them from being stolen or misused.
- Parents/legal guardians should strongly consider freezing their children’s credit with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) because it’s one of the best proactive measures they can take to protect them. It’s important that parents/legal guardians check and make sure there is no credit file already associated with their child’s information. Children shouldn’t have a credit report, and if one is discovered, parents/legal guardians should immediately contact us for assistance in reclaiming their children’s identity. If there is no file associated with their child, parents can have one created by the CRA and then immediately frozen. It’s also worth noting that parents or legal guardians need to safeguard the PIN that each credit reporting agency assigns to them.
Shared Custody and Claiming Children on Taxes
In most cases, a parent or legal guardian fraudulently claiming a child on a tax return is a civil matter to be handled by the courts and/or with the assistance of an attorney and is not considered identity theft. You can review the IRS Publication 501, Exemptions for Dependents for more information.
This info sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright, Identity Theft Resource Center®, all rights reserved.