Child identity theft is growing at an alarming rate, and it often goes unnoticed for years at a time. It occurs when an individual uses the personal identifiable information of a minor—obviously without consent—to open new accounts or lines of credit. The consequences can be very serious, and can negatively impact a victim’s ability to get a job, enroll in college, qualify for financial aid and scholarships, and even join the military.
There is good news for parents who are worried about protecting their children’s identities: a significant number of child identity theft cases involve a parent or other close friend or relative who stole the information and used it fraudulently. In fact, as many as 27% of child identity theft cases involved the parent or someone close to the household. Why is this good news? While it is rather heartbreaking, it is easier to protect your child’s personal information from someone close than from some hackers halfway across the world. Unfortunately, the rest of the cases of child identity theft had nothing to do with family members or friends. So how do you go about securing your child’s information and keeping it safe from outsiders?
First, if you live in a state that will allow you to do so, you can put a freeze on your child’s credit. That will prevent new accounts from being opened, and it might be a good preemptive step if there are people in your family with financial worries, if there’s been a divorce or custody issue, or other reason for concern. Just know that removing the freeze can involve a waiting period so you’ll want to do so once your child is old enough to need his credit.
Next, you may be called on far too often to share personal information about your child. It might be school forms, doctor’s office forms, summer camp registration, sports league sign-ups, and more. The sad truth is a lot of these types of registrations ask for a ton of sensitive data on your child that they don’t really need, and they may not be doing their best to keep that information secure. Think of it this way: why does your child’s baseball team need such detailed information? Why does a field trip form from the school need his insurance or Medicaid account number? What does the school plan to do with his Social Security number since it’s legally not allowed to be used as an identification number? For that matter, does the dentist really need his Social Security number, and yours? If you’re not asking these questions and asking how the organization plans to keep this data safe, then you might want to reevaluate who has access to your child’s important information.
Social media is another common avenue for identity thieves to gather information on children. Are you oversharing? Is your maiden name or your wife’s maiden name listed in the Facebook profile so her high school friends can find her? Are you sharing photos from your child’s birthday party or sending out “happy birthday” wishes to your six-year-old over Facebook (hint: unless your six-year-old has a Facebook account, he won’t see the post anyway)? Here’s the problem… with that one birthday post from an ill-named account, a criminal can find out your child’s name, birthdate, and mother’s maiden name. Those are three of the pieces of the puzzle that a thief needs to open accounts in his name. One quick peek through a doctor’s office records, school cafeteria records, or sports league records can provide him with the final piece, the Social Security number.
Finally, if you have reason to believe your child’s identity was compromised, don’t ignore it. If you’re receiving strange statements with your child’s name on them, a tax notice from the IRS in your child’s name, employment or medical statements that you didn’t authorize, or if you’re suddenly receiving credit card offers in the mail addressed to your child, there’s a good chance someone has already stolen his information. Take action immediately by filing a police report and following the steps outlined by the Federal Trade Commission for child identity theft.