Child identity theft can be devastating, and it's more common than you might think. Make sure your family is protected.
Here's a frightening statistic: 1 in 40 homes with children under 18 experience some form of child identity theft. With that in mind, it's likely you already know someone affected by this crime. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk.
Why steal a child's identity?Many people don't realize that a child's social security number and other personal information can be used by adults to do all sorts of things from applying for government benefits to renting an apartment.
Adults monitor their identities and credit reports regularly. Parents don't examine children's identities very often, so they are an easier target for identity thieves. For example, most children don't have credit histories or tax statements that might raise suspicions about a possible case of identity theft. This theft can go on until a child turns eighteen, at which point there might be an awful lot of damage to undo.
How identity thieves do it.Any identity theft usually starts with sensitive personal information that's either carelessly secured, distributed, or discarded. Identity thieves hack into personal computers; illegally obtain records from schools, daycares, or other organizations for children; and frequently use phishing scams to collect the data they plan to exploit. Criminals can quickly distribute this information once they collect it, which compounds the problem exponentially.
The scariest part is that many perpetrators of child identity theft are people the children know and trust—sometimes close relatives and even parents. The only piece of information an identity thief needs is a child's social security number. They can then create a fake name and birth date, and establish a new line of credit or something else under those false pretenses. These cases almost always start with easy access to crucial personal data—access that should be easy to prevent.
What they do with the data.Perpetrators of child identity theft often have many years to abuse those identities before anyone finds out. In the case of an adult, if someone steals credit card information, the victim is usually contacted promptly by their bank and they can take steps to rectify the problem quickly. With children, that's not the case because the thief is establishing a new identity with information from a child's true identity. This keeps them off the radar of banks and other regulatory institutions.
Over the course of eighteen years, child identity theft can result in maxed out credit cards, fraudulent tax filings, enrollment in medical and other insurance, delinquent utility accounts, and apartment rentals that can ruin a person's credit. Sometimes, thieves even sell the data to other criminals.
Preventing child identity theft.
The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent child identity theft.
The most important step is to keep track of your child's social security number and only provide it to those who absolutely need it. If a school or some other organization requires a social security number for your child, find out why and whether or not there is another form of identification they will accept. Never share your child's social security number (or yours, for that matter) with someone you don't know and trust.
Be mindful of the information you store on phones or other mobile devices. If they have access to mobile devices, teach your children to do the same and to be careful with passwords, purchases, and social media posts.
Shred any documents that contain sensitive information on your children before throwing them away. Ensure that any materials you retain are adequately secured and, in the case of electronic information, password-protected.
Be aware of the world around you. If there's been a break-in at your child's school or doctor's office, check to make sure your child's information is safe. Keep an eye on anybody in your life who might be in a desperate situation and starts asking questions about your family. Immediately report a lost wallet or purse that might store your child's social security information.
Finally, consider identity theft protection for you and your family. It's a simple, affordable way to keep tabs on everyone's sensitive information, and it could save you a lot of headaches down the road.
Worried your child might already be a victim of identity theft? Contact a credit reporting agency to find out if your child has a credit report, or contact us for immediate assistance.
Have you been affected by child identity theft? What tips would you give to parents to avoid this crime? Leave your answers in the comments below.