Adults are often on guard about protecting their personal information and aware of common scams that could leave them susceptible, but what about our children? Because children don’t have credit cards or lines of credit, we usually don’t think about protecting their identities, but their blank slate is exactly why they’re prime targets for identity theft.
Thieves often jump for joy when they can obtain the information of a child because it means the fraudulent activity may not be discovered for years. They then use this information to apply for credit cards, open bank accounts, rent an apartment, or even apply for government benefits.
It isn’t usually until a child nears adulthood that they discover that they’ve been taken advantage of when they find it difficult to apply for jobs, open their own bank account, or apply for college.
To prevent this from happening and to fight it if it does, follow these steps:
1. Be aware of suspicious activity
Junk mail is a fact of life, but don’t brush it off if it has your child’s name on it. Promotional offers and credit card applications could be an indication of identity theft. In addition to suspicious mail, other suspicious activity includes:
- Being denied for a bank account or driver’s license
- Being turned down for government benefits because the social security number is already associated with an account
- Receiving collection calls/bills
- Receiving an IRS bill
2. Protect their information
There are only a few situations in which your child’s personal identifying information should be necessary. This usually includes medical care, school registration, applying for benefits, or admission into various programs.
When you are asked for their personal information, specifically their social security number, ask if you can share only the last 4 digits, or if another form of identifying information can be used. Find out how your child’s school uses, stores, and shares its students’ information. Often it is stored in a directory that is accessible by third parties. And even though you are legally allowed to opt-out of having your child’s information shared you have to ask for it.
Unfortunately, parents often unknowingly put their child at risk by advertising their information publicly. Car decals often depict family member’s names and genders, and celebratory signs in the yard often give away their address. And considering Equifax reports that children’s identities are often stolen by close friends or family members looking for a fresh start, don’t make their information easily accessible.
3. Take preventative measures
In addition to protecting their information, you can prevent your child’s identity from being stolen by being proactive. One way to do this is by calling the credit bureaus and asking if a credit report exists for your child. This is because they shouldn’t have one if they have no credit history, so if they offer to give it to you then there’s a problem.
Your children may not know to be as cautious with their information as you are, so teach them the importance of protecting their information. Video games and social media sites are a common site for personal information to be shared. Teach them to come to you first whenever they’re asked for personal information online, or in any format.
4. Take quick action if necessary
If you do discover that your child’s identity has been stolen, file a police report immediately. Then call the credit reporting companies and the businesses involved to have all accounts removed. If you keep a record of each place to which you’ve provided your children’s personal information it may be easier to track down the culprit.
In the meantime, you can place a fraud alert through the credit bureaus so that if anyone else tries to open any accounts through your child’s information you will be notified. You can also request a credit freeze that will prevent anyone from opening any accounts at all.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to protect your children from identity theft. Their future job, education, and even ability to rent an apartment depends on having a sound financial history, and it is a parent’s responsibility to protect their children from threats that could affect their lives both now and in the future.
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