National Consumer Protection Week 2015 takes place March 1-7. As part of this initiative, ITRC blogs this week will provide tips to protect consumers from scams, fraud, and identity theft. For more information about this yearly event, visit ncpw.gov to find free materials from government and private organizations. Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!
Children can be sought-after targets for identity thieves for a couple of reasons. Their credit is a blank slate, but even worse, your child may go years without ever needing to check his credit. By the time a young person opens his or her first checking accounts, credit card accounts, or applies for college financial aid, someone may have already had a decade-long shopping spree under that identity.
Child identity theft can have far-reaching consequences. It’s not just a matter of proving that your six-year-old didn’t buy that new car. Bad credit or credit discrepancies can affect your child’s ability to get a job, to apply for financial aid, to join the military, to pass a security check for travel, and more. Even if the matter gets resolved, it can mean your child will be burdened with a black mark on his credit that he’ll have to explain at every turn, and can even mean his first real credit card may carry a punitively high interest rate.
So how do you go about protecting your child’s credit, especially when he may not have a credit report to even look at?
The first step is protecting your child’s data. Children are typically issued Social Security numbers at birth now, and that important number may get used a number of ways before your child ever has a job. Be mindful of who you share that number with, and remember that schools, doctor’s offices, and many other organizations may ask for the number but are not actually entitled to it. Your child’s SSN is not to be used as an identification number, and if you did have to turn it over for some reason, you’re allowed to ask how that office plans to protect it.
While you’re protecting your child’s data, are you mindful of what you’re accidentally oversharing? It’s quite common for women on social media sites like Facebook to use both their maiden names and their married names so that childhood friends can find them. Unfortunately, those users just shared their children’s mothers’ maiden names, which is a universally common security question for financial accounts. It’s also common for parents to post sweet messages on their children’s birthdays, announcing to the world that “ten years ago today I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl!” Unfortunately, you now just gave the internet your child’s birthdate, too.
Even if you know you’re protecting your child’s data, there are a handful of ways to know if someone has already compromised his or her credit report. Is your child receiving suspicious mail, credit card offers, auto loan or auto insurance offers, or other pieces of mail that indicate there is activity on her credit report? Did you attempt to open an account of some kind for your child or apply for benefits for your child, and discover that an account already exists? If you’ve contacted the credit reporting agencies, is there already a credit report on your child’s name and Social Security number? Those are huge red flags that something isn’t right.
If you have reason to believe that your child’s information has been used, you can file an alert and freeze with the three credit reporting agencies. If it has, in fact, been used, you must file a police report on the crime and file an identity theft report with the FTC. These reports and alerts are intended to make it harder for anyone to open a new account or line of credit in your child’s name while helping you begin the process of clearing your child’s name, but be sure to remove these freezes when the time comes for her to legitimately apply for credit.