What is child identity theft?
Child identity theft is a crime that occurs when an individual uses the identifying information of a minor for personal gain or in order to commit fraud. This may include information such a child’s Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, date of birth or address. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research study conducted in 2012, one in 40 households with children under 18 had at least one child who had experienced identity theft.
It can occur in different ways. A stranger may steal or purchase the child’s information. A family member or family friend with access to a child’s information may use it to open accounts with the child’s clean credit history. And the results can be devastating. It may make it more difficult for the child to get student loans for college and may affect their ability to get a driver’s license, a job, a credit card, or to rent an apartment or sign up for utilities. It can also seriously impact the parents’ status, affecting, for example, their ability to claim the child as a dependent on an income tax return if the child’s Social Security number is reported as belonging to someone with full-time employment.
Unfortunately, children and adolescents have become one of the fastest growing sectors of identity theft victims. And often the crime is not discovered until years after the initial theft occurs, when a young adult is applying to college, for a job or for a credit card for the first time.
Learn the warning signs so that you can protect your children.
Signs that your child’s identity may have been stolen include:
- Calls from collection agencies, or bills from credit card companies or medical providers when your child has never applied for or used these services;
- Offers for credit cards or bank account checks in your child’s name;
- Denial of government benefits for your child or family because benefits are being paid to another account that is using your child’s Social Security number.
- Questions from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or some other government agency seeking to confirm that your child is employed, even though your child has never had a job.
- After you file a tax return listing your dependent child’s name and Social Security number, receipt of a notice from the IRS that the same information is listed on another tax return.
- Notice from the IRS saying that your child has failed to pay taxes on income, even though your child has no income.
What to do if it happens to your child
If you think your child has been the victim of identity theft:
- Contact each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (i.e. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to determine whether your child has a credit report.
- Ask each agency to do a manual search of your child’s file and to check for files relating to your child’s name and Social Security number and for files related only your child’s Social Security number.
- Make sure to record the dates you made calls or sent letters and keep copies of all letters and paperwork in your files.
If your child’s credit report shows that the child’s personal information has been misused:
Create an Identity Theft Report on behalf of your child.
An Identity Theft Report will help you when dealing with credit reporting agencies and creditors. You can use it to get information about the accounts the identity thief opened or misused, to have fraudulent information removed from your child’s credit report, to stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, and to place an extended fraud alert on your child’s credit file. For more information about the Identity Theft Report, visit Identity Theft: What To Do If It Happens To You.
Alert each credit reporting agency.
- Ask each credit reporting company for its mailing address and any policies regarding child identity theft. To prove that your child is a minor in your care, you may need to send them a completed .
- Explain that your child has been the victim of identity theft, that s/he is a minor and cannot legally enter into any type of contract.
- Ask each agency to remove all items associated with your child’s name or Social Security number, including all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices.
- Place an Initial Fraud Alert on your child’s credit file. An initial fraud alert requires potential creditors to verify a person’s identity before extending credit. Contact any one of the three credit reporting companies. The company that you contact must contact the other two credit reporting agencies so that all three companies will have an alert on the file they have for your child. Mark your calendar as to when the alert is placed on the credit file. The initial fraud alerts stays on your child’s file for 90 days, but you can renew it after 90 days.
- Once you create an Identity Theft Report, you can place an Extended Fraud Alert on your child’s credit file. This will allow you to get two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the credit reporting agencies, and the agencies must take your child’s name off of marketing lists for prescreened credit offers. An extended alert lasts for seven years.
Alert individual businesses.
- Contact every business where an account was fraudulently opened or misused using your child’s information. Also, contact any credit issuer or collection agency listed on your child’s credit report or that have attempted to contact your child. Contact each company by phone and follow up with a letter and copies of supporting documents.
- Explain that your child has been the victim of identity theft.
- Request that all accounts that have been opened or compromised be closed immediately.
- Ask to have all accounts, application inquiries and collection notices removed immediately from your child’s credit report.
- Request a copy of all application and transaction records in writing. Businesses should make this information available to victims/parents of victims of identity theft for free once the victim’s identity and the identity theft claim are verified.
- Provide copies of all application and transaction records to the law enforcement agency investigating your case.
For other identity crimes:
- If you suspect criminal identity theft, provide an alibi for your child through the use of school attendance records, doctor’s appointment records or the like.
- If you suspect the identity thief has obtained employment using your child’s Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration to request a copy of your child’s Social Security Earnings Information – Form 7050. This form will list all the places the person using your child’s Social Security number has worked. Explain the identity theft and ask the agency to amend the document accordingly.
Below are some tips to help you safeguard your child’s identity:
Keep your child’s information safe.
- Guard your child’s personal information by carrying documents or paperwork with your child’s identity information only when it is absolutely necessary. When not in use, your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate and passport should be kept locked in a safe and secure place.
- Do not share your child’s Social Security number (or any part of the number) over the phone, over the internet or even in person, unless you know and trust the other party.
- If you are asked for your child’s Social Security number, be very cautious and ask questions before providing any information. Ask the other party:
Why is it needed?
Isn’t there any other way to identify my child?
What will happen if I do not share my child’s number?
How will my child’s information be protected?
How long with the information be kept?
How will the information be disposed of?
- Often schools will ask for your child’s Social Security number or other personal identifying information. Ask the school if this is optional or if another form of identification, such as a utility bill, is sufficient.
- Never use your child’s Social Security number to open an account for your benefit. Although it may be tempting, especially if you have bad credit, using your child’s information can have serious and long-lasting consequences. It may keep them from getting a credit card, student loans, an apartment or even a job when they turn 18.
Take steps to ensure your child’s safety on the internet.
- Make sure you have a secure connection before sharing any personal information on the internet. A secure website has a lock icon ( image) in the address bar and a URL that begins with “https.”
- If you use a password to sign into a website, log out of the site when you are finished.
- Teach your child not to give out personal information on the internet or to post identifying information on social networking sites.
- Know the web sites that your child visits. Find out what type of information is being requested to register on the site or to create a profile.
- Teach your child about password protection. Explain to them the importance of protecting their log-in information and not sharing it with others.
- Talk with your child about scams they may encounter online (and offline). Teach them to not open emails from strangers or to click on links to unknown websites.
Safely dispose of your child’s information.
- Before throwing away paperwork, use a cross-cut shredder to shred any documents that contain your child’s personal information.
- Learn how to remove personal or financial information that might be stored on your computer, cell phone, or other device before you dispose of it.
Stay alert and attentive.
- Monitor your child’s credit report.
- Regularly update your computers’ firewall and virus protection software to protect them from viruses, malware and spyware.
- Delete electronic computer files that you no longer need and empty online trash or recycle bins.