One of the most surprising statistics about identity theft is that more than one million children were victims of identity theft and fraud last year (according to Javelin Strategy and Research). Fraud against children totaled $2.6 billion in 2017 with two-thirds of victims age seven or younger.
Why are children sought after targets for criminals? Children do not yet have any credit in their name, which makes it easy for criminals to open new lines of credit without anyone knowing. Criminals steal the child’s social security number and pair it with a different date of birth in order to open fraudulent accounts.
It is possible to steal a child’s identity as early as birth and use that information fraudulently until finally detected a decade and a half later when the child, now a young adult, applies for a driver’s license or tries to open an account. Imagine the shock at finding hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid balances reported on the child’s credit history. Cleaning up an identity theft mess like this is just as complicated for a child as it is for an adult.
How can you protect your children?
- Do not provide personal information about your child, such as social security number, unless this information is absolutely necessary. For example, just because an application asks for your child’s social security number does not mean you need to provide it. Most forms are not designed to limit the gathering of sensitive information.
- Teach your children to avoid sharing personal information. Social media sites can be gold mines for criminals where they easily learn full legal names of kids, birthdays, phone numbers, and home addresses.
- Keep sensitive personal and financial information about your children locked up. This includes documents such as social security cards and birth certificates. One startling fact about child identity theft is 60% of the time the child knows the criminal, whether it be through school, sports, clubs, or even family. Do not make it easy for potential thieves to gain access to sensitive information.
- Watch for red flags such as preapproved credit cards, bills, or collection notices in the names of your children. When you receive the aforementioned mailings, it may indicate someone is using your child’s credit.
- Set your children up on a credit monitoring service. Or, freeze your children’s credit. A credit monitoring service will provide a copy of your children’s credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies, monitor the credit reports for activity and alert you of any changes, and help you resolve issues if fraudulent activity occurs. Freezing credit will make it impossible for anyone to open new lines of credit in your children’s names. If you take this step, make sure to store the credit freeze PIN in a secure location.