One of the most important roles for a parent is to protect their children from possible harm. Most parents take great strides to ensure the personal safety of their youngsters; however, few parents are aware of the potential problems arising from their child’s identity theft.
Child identify theft simply means that a child’s identity is used by another person for that person’s personal gain. When someone steals your child’s identity, it impacts his ability to get credit, scholarships, insurance, employment and a place to live. But, it can get even worse. If a person commits a crime using your child’s name, that crime goes on your child’s record.
Unfortunately, family members or close friends are the most likely candidates for stealing a child’s identity because they have immediate access to the child’s social security number or other personal information. In some cases, it is the child’s own parents who abuse their children’s identity, wrecking their child’s credit history for years to come. Whether perpetrated by a family member or a stranger, using someone else’s identity is illegal and punishable by law.
Child identity theft is a crime that has taken a few years to fester and grow. Starting in the early 1980s, the Internal Revenue Service asked the Social Security Administration to give all children a social security number. Having a Social Security number and not actively using it or monitoring its use has allowed unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of the younger generation and use their personal information for a variety of purposes. The problem has increased significantly in recent years with the advancement of technology making personal information more readily available.
Children are often a highly desirable target because few parents think about checking their children’s credit files. Most would assume that a file does not exist because the children are minors and have never applied for credit or held a job. However, credit report agencies only know what is reported on an application; they have no way of verifying the age of the individual making the application. Also, few credit reviewers ever ask for personal identification before making a loan or approving a credit card. As a result, neither the unsuspecting parent nor the child would know that a credit file has been established in the child’s name.
Following are some suggestions to help minimize your child’s risk for identity theft:
- Teach your children to never share any personal information—passwords, Social Security number, banking information, personal ID numbers, etc—without your permission.
- If someone asks for a copy of your child’s birth certificate or Social Security number, ask why it’s necessary. Be sure to ask how the information will be shared or stored and who will have access to the information.
- Do not carry your Social Security card or your child’s card with you. Store them at home in a safe, secure place.
- If you receive bills or pre-approved credit card offers in your child’s name, contact the sender for more information.
- Review all savings account or banking account statements thoroughly rather than assuming your child’s accounts have had no activity.
- Keep your computer virus and spyware protection active and up-to-date, and use online passwords with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols to help reduce the potential for hacking.
- If your child has a credit history, check his or her credit report annually at the same time you check your own. Review the reports for any inaccuracies and report them.
- If you suspect your identity or your child’s identity might be compromised, take action immediately. Check with the three existing credit bureaus to get a copy of your credit report or your child’s report.
- You can order a free copy of your credit report once a year from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax through the federal web site at annualcreditreport.com. Each credit bureau has different procedures for checking to see if your children have a credit file. Visit each credit bureau’s web site for instructions.
Should you find any activity listed on your report that is not yours, contact the credit bureau and the local police. You can also download an identity theft victim’s form.
Sue Lynn Sasser, PhD, is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma.