Identity Theft is a growing problem across the nation, but did you know that even your kids are at risk? Your child’s Social Security Number can be used to access public benefits, apply for bank accounts and credit cards, open up utility accounts, and even apply for a place to rent. Why are children targets? Because it can be years before the theft is even discovered. And by that time the victim’s credit is trashed – only discovered by applying for their own checking account or credit card and being turned down due to bad credit. Cleaning up credit from identity theft can take years of work. Here’s what you can do to protect your child from being a victim and what to do if you discover your child has already become a victim.
An ounce of prevention
The best protection against identity theft and fraudulent use of your child’s Social Security Number is to have a safe location for your child’s paper and electronic records that show his or her personal information. If a third party wants their personal information (like a doctor’s office, school, daycare, etc.), ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Request that only the last 4 digits of their Social Security number be used or better yet, an entirely different “identifier.”
It’s comforting to think that your child’s information is safe within your home, but be aware that the majority of child identity theft is committed by relatives or close friends of the family. When folks are desperate they may resort to desperate measures. A parent, relative, or friend using a child’s Social Security Number to open a cell phone account, utility account, or for any other household need may seem like a convenient solution to an adult’s credit issues, but it is setting up the child for a lifetime of credit issues and is no less fraud than if a stranger does it. Of course, your child’s information could also be compromised if there is a theft in the house, a breach in security at the school or doctor’s office, or your purse or wallet is stolen and their information is in it. So keep that information locked up.
Know the warning signs
There are several signs that someone may have misused your child’s social security number.
- He or she may be turned down for government benefits because they are already being paid to another account using your child’s social security number.
- He or she could get a notice from the IRS saying your child didn’t pay income taxes or that his or her Social Security Number was used on another tax return.
- Another tell-tale sign your child has been a victim of identity is collection calls or bills coming in their name. It’s pretty unlikely your 3 year-old has a Smartphone without you knowing about it. And even if he or she did, it wouldn’t be in your child’s name.
You may want to check out your child’s credit report when they turn 16, even if you don’t suspect identity theft. This will give you and your child a couple years to take action and clean up his or her credit report of any fraudulent activity. You can get your child’s and your credit report for FREE once per year from all 3 credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Know what to do
If your child’s information has been compromised, the first thing you will want to do is contact each of the 3 nationwide credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – and ask for a manual search of the child’s file (but remember to get FREE credit reports always use AnnualCreditReport.com). They will search for files using the child’s name and Social Security Number and for files related only to the Social Security Number. You will most likely be required to provide copies of your child’s birth certificate, Social Security Card and your driver’s license, government issued ID, or copies proving you are the child’s legal guardian. Ironically, it’s the same information that a thief would use to commit fraud, so make sure you send it via certified mail with a return receipt so you receive verification it was received.
If you find incorrect information on your child’s credit report, make sure to dispute the information directly with the credit bureau that is reporting it. Then, put a fraud alert on your child’s file. You may even want to consider a Credit Freeze, which would make it impossible for anyone to access your child’s credit report. You will also want to place an Identity Theft report.
Know where to go for help
The leading source of information on Identity Theft is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can learn more about identity theft and how to file a report as well as get tips on teaching your kids online safety and how to protect their identity. You may also want to check out your state’s Attorney General’s website. Click here to find your state’s AG website.
Finding out your child has been the victim of identity theft can bring on a wave of emotions and may make it difficult to figure out your next steps. If you need additional support or advice, LSS Financial Counseling can help. One of our counselors will assist you in reading your child’s credit report, make a plan to get incorrect information off of your child’s credit, and help you set up a credit freeze on your child’s report. If you have questions for a counselor, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LSS will empower you to regain control of your finances, conquer your debt, and achieve your financial goals. Give us a call at 888.577.2227 to schedule a financial check-up. Don’t wait to improve your financial future – take action today!
Author Shannon Doyle is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling and she specializes in Debt/Budget Counseling and Student Loans.