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Parents instinctively protect their children from any danger that might come their way, but what do parents tend to overlook? Child identity theft.  Given the prevalence of this crime – more than one million cases of child identity theft cases were reported last year alone – it’s crucial that parents and legal guardians start taking the necessary steps to help minimize their children’s risks. To help encourage this thinking, Experian has deemed September 1 as Child Identity Theft Awareness Day to generate more attention around this prolific crime in hopes that it will reduce the amount of victims.

Children’s identities are seen as desirable because they are often left unmonitored for many years, giving thieves ample time to wreak havoc. For example, a recent survey conducted by Experian found that 45 percent of respondents didn’t discover they were a victim of identity theft until they were between the ages of 16 and 18.  Additionally, more than half of those surveyed didn’t discover they were a victim of child identity theft until they applied for credit as an adult or when they received a bill or credit card in the mail.

The emotional toll this crime takes on its victims is also worth noting. The survey discovered that 35 percent of the child identity theft victims surveyed sought professional help in dealing with related stress, anxiety, anger or depression related to the theft; 68 percent said they are fearful it could happen to them again; and 65 percent are angry about the credit roadblocks they have faced. Furthermore, 10 years later, 1 out of 4 victims surveyed are still dealing with the issues and 81 percent of them remain concerned about their ability to get approved for credit in the future.

As illustrated in the survey, the effects of child identity theft can be long lasting and although this crime is not completely unpreventable, parents and legal guardians can take the necessary steps to minimize their children’s risks. For starters, many parents/legal guardians don’t realize that they might be unintentionally putting their child at risk of identity theft by carrying their Social Security card, giving out this number to entities that don’t legally need it (doctor’s office/hospital) and by not being proactive.

Interestingly enough, the survey revealed that when the parents discovered the child identity theft, their children were 14 years old on average, whereas if the child found out about the theft themselves, they were 19 years old on average. What parents don’t often realize is that they might be able to discover this theft even sooner, which could potentially save their children years of headache.  First, parents need to be on the lookout for signs of child identity theft, which include the following: protecting their Social Security number, monitoring their children’s personal information, social media and online activity, paying attention to privacy policies and teaching them about identity theft risks. Second, they might consider doing Experian’s free Child ID Scan, which is a one-time service for parents or guardians to check if an Experian credit report exists for their child. If you do find out that your children’s information has been compromised, we recommend contacting the Identity Theft Resource’s toll-free number at 888-400-5530 to speak to an experienced advisor who can inform you about the necessary steps to take to resolve the issue. You can also use their live chat feature on their website at: www.idtheftcenter.org

Taking small steps to protect your child’s identity can not only greatly reduce their risk of becoming a victim but it can also help them in the long run.

Experian proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The Harm in Hoaxes on Social Media

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.

RED FLAGS
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.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • 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 itrc@idtheftcenter.org. Copyright, Identity Theft Resource Center®, all rights reserved.

It turns out the boogeyman is actually hiding in the deep dark web, not your child’s closet.

Identity theft is often misconstrued as an issue that only adults deal with; however, it’s also something that affects children. According to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study, one million child identity theft cases were reported in the U.S. last year.

It is important to note that these are only reported cases, so the actual number of child identity theft victims is likely higher. According to the calls we receive from impacted individuals, many child identity theft cases go underreported because they may have been perpetrated by a custodial or non-custodial parent, a close relative or even family friend, and the victim might not feel comfortable pressing charges.

Criminals see children’s identities as a hot commodity because they’re typically unmonitored and clean. Since children don’t start to establish credit until they are an adult (age 18) and open their first credit card or take out a loan, parents don’t usually think to check their child’s credit history. Unfortunately, criminals see this as the perfect opportunity to use your child’s information to open up several accounts, which may go undetected for years.

After the child’s information is stolen, criminals often turn to the dark web to sell it for as low as one dollar. The Dark Web, which contains some areas that are not accessible by normal internet browsers or are gated, holds a variety of illicit activity. So if you’ve been a victim of a data breach or gave personal information to a scammer, your information might be living there, as well as your child’s information.

Even though your child isn’t opening up new lines of credit at the moment, they are still at risk of having their information exposed. One way this can happen is through a data breach.  You should be aware that accidental breaches do occur and you should be mindful of the consequences. For example, schools, doctor offices and daycares hold your child’s personal identifying information (PII) and could be potentially breached. It’s important to find out how your child’s information is collected, stored and disposed.

Often times, thieves will buy a child’s Social Security number (SSN) from the dark web and combine it with a fake date of birth, address and name to completely fabricate an identity. Considered synthetic identity fraud, this is an increasingly common method that criminals use to commit identity theft.  In order to protect your child from the dark web, it’s important to check if a credit report exists with your child’s SSN regularly, never carry their SSN and only provide their SSN when it’s required.

Checking for the existence of a credit report with each of the three credit bureaus is a leading way to identify child identity theft. There are other indicators including the following:

  • Your child receives offers for pre-approved credit cards.
  • You receive bills in your child’s name.
  • A collection notice arrives with your child’s name on it.
  • Your application for government benefits for your child is refused because benefits are already being paid out to someone using your child’s Social Security number.
  • You receive a letter from the IRS saying your child owes taxes. Be aware, however, that any phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS is almost certainly fraudulent. The IRS communicates with taxpayers by U.S. mail only.

You can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free assistance at 888-400-5530 or through the live chat feature on their website: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/

Experian proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

When the public hears about the latest data breach, they might envision a network of hackers working in the dark web. The reality, though, is sometimes a lot more mundane. Accidental data breaches can happen when information is allowed to fall into the wrong hands for any number of reasons, but the concerns that can arise can be just as serious.

In the past, accidental data breaches have occurred due to issues like losing an unencrypted laptop or flash drive. Other incidents were the result of unsecured servers whose information was unintentionally posted online. In some cases, though, the breach occurred through intentionally sharing information, only it was with the wrong recipient.

That’s the case for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in a recent data breach that compromised students’ and families’ personal data. Families in the school system were sent an email providing them with a necessary enrollment form. The link included in the email was inadvertently attached to a spreadsheet containing information for nearly 4,000 students and parents in the district. The link was active for several hours before someone noticed the error and removed the information from the link. In this specific data breach, students’ names, phone numbers, email addresses, and student ID numbers were exposed.

Experts looking into the CPS breach point to a far bigger concern than just sending out a link rather than attaching the document that was supposed to go to the parents: why is there a speadsheet of student information stored online that is accessible by anyone who finds it? The spreadsheet was not password protected, and hours after CPS officials informed parents of the error—they requested the families delete the email rather than take down the link—the spreadsheet, however, was still readily accessible. Concerned officials see that as a lack of training and awareness of how to secure students’ personal data.

Unfortunately, this incident is the third such accidental data breach in the CPS school district since 2016. In 2016, an employee sent out sensitive information to unauthorized parties, providing them with access to students’ information.  In 2017, unsecured web documents were posted on the CPS website exposing medical conditions, students’ names, identification numbers and other information.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

There was a time when child identity theft was thought of as a family problem, and it’s true that many cases over the years have been perpetrated by a custodial or non-custodial parent, a close relative, or even a family friend. Once the individual gained access to the child’s sensitive documents, they could open numerous lines of credit with the child’s “untarnished” credit record. In many cases, the identity thief may have been trying to get out of a dire financial situation, and fully intended to pay off any debt incurred in the child’s name; at the same time, some unscrupulous thieves didn’t care what consequences waited for the child down the road.

Too often, the children didn’t even know they’d been victimized until they reached adulthood and tried to use their legitimate credit.

In more recent years, though, hackers and identity thieves have begun targeting kids in order to take advantage of clean credit that no one will be monitoring for years to come. Schools, doctor’s offices, daycare centers, even school lunch computers have suffered data breaches intent on nabbing kids’ personal identifiable information.

According to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study, there were more than one million reported cases of child identity theft in the US last year, with the majority of those cases victimizing children under the age of eight. Another 20 percent of the victims were between the ages of eight and twelve.

Unfortunately, those are just the cases that were reported, which means the actual number of victims may be much higher.

But this new avenue of data breaches leading to identity theft doesn’t mean that parents can let their guards down about friends or relatives. The same Javelin study found that in 60 percent of the cases last year, the child knew their identity thief; that’s very different from the data point that says only 7 percent of adult victims know their identity thief.

One of the increasingly common methods of using children’s stolen credentials is to grab a Social Security number and combine it with a fake name, address, phone number, and more. Known as “synthetic identity theft,” the thief isn’t using the child’s complete identity, but rather has created a whole new person with this information. That makes it a little harder for victims and law enforcement to notice the problem in the first place or take action after the fact.

Concerned parents or guardians have a few steps they can take, though. If the child in question is over 14, they can request a credit report in the same way that any consumer does. Visiting annualcreditreport.com will provide the minor in question with a free credit report, and allow them to look it over for signs of suspicious activity. If the child is under the age of 14, the steps are a little harder. The adult must prove they have a right to access and see the information, but it’s a worthwhile step if there’s reason to believe a child’s identity may have been compromised.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.