Watch Out for Child Identity Theft

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shutterstock_81058081One of the fastest growing crimes right now is identity theft. However, we often think of identity fraud as something that plagues adults. After all, identity theft is often the result of having your credit information “out there” for fraudsters to find when they hack into a database. So, if you don’t have a credit history, how can your identity be stolen? Your kids must be safe.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Your child might be the victim of identity fraud, and have his or her credit ruined before the age of 18 — all because you didn’t keep tabs on his or her credit report.

How Can Thieves Steal a Child’s Identity?

Since most children born in the United States are issued Social Security numbers, it means that there is a way for fraudsters to steal an identity. Because most parents don’t think to run credit checks on their minor children, identity thieves can get good use out of your child’s information.

It’s possible for fraudsters to use your child’s name and Social Security number, and then list the birthdate as something that indicates the age of majority. Identity thieves then set up credit accounts using this information, and can even obtain credit for years before anyone realizes what has happened. And, of course, since someone else’s name is attached to the credit accounts, there is no reason for fraudsters to be careful about making payments. They don’t care about opening accounts and not paying.

What’s even more problematic is when the fraudsters don’t use your child’s name. Instead, since there isn’t an existing file with credit bureaus for a particular Social Security number, a thief can make up a name, address, and other information to attach to your child’s number. If you search for your child’s name, you won’t find the file — and you’ll feel safe. Instead, you have to look for the Social Security number to check to see if someone’s hijacked your child’s credit.

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It’s even possible for fraudsters to get information they can use from your tax return (where you list your child’s Social Security number in the dependent section), hospital records, and school records.

How Do You Know if Your Child’s Identity is Compromised?

You should check your child’s credit history, using his or her Social Security number. Find out if there is activity — even though your child shouldn’t have a credit history. The Federal Trade Commission also lists some red flags that indicate your child’s identity might be compromised:

  • The IRS claims that the Social Security number you list for your child is already in use on another tax return, indicating that someone else is claiming credits for your child’s number.
  • Credit card offers arrive addressed to child
  • You receive a notice, addressed to your child, about a failure to pay income taxes, an indication that someone is using your child’s Social Security number to get a job.
  • Collections agency notices and bills begin to appear bearing your child’s name.

If you notice these signs, it’s time to contact the credit bureaus and start straightening out the problem. You can put a freeze on your child’s credit report, and take other steps to prevent further problems. Read your school’s sharing policies, and opt out of sharing with third-parties. Also, pay attention to privacy policies anywhere your child is treated medically or participates in activities.

You don’t want your child’s credit ruined before he or she even leaves the house, and with child identity theft becoming a real problem, you need to stay on top of the situation.

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Miranda is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in financial topics. Her work has appeared in numerous media, online and offline. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds.