Identity theft is becoming commonplace and it seems almost everyone in the U.S. has received a notice that their personal data may have been stolen in connection with a data breach. Several of these data breach incidents have involved personal data of minors.
It is much harder to discover identity theft of minors because most aren’t actively using their social security numbers and may not do so until they enter college.
For example, someone can misappropriate a valid social security number of a minor and use it to apply for credit or a loan with a different name, birthdate and address. This misappropriation can continue for years until the minor starts using their social security number to rent an apartment or apply for a student loan or credit card, and the identity discrepancy comes to light.
Warning Signs That Your Child’s Identity Might Have Been Stolen
Even if you haven’t been notified that your child’s personal data may have been stolen, beware of the following warning signs:
Unsolicited Inquiries Addressed to Child: Calls to your child from collection agencies, or collection notices, credit card offers or bills addressed to your child.
Credit Record Exists for Child: Unless your child is an authorized user on your credit card or loans have been taken out in your child’s name, they should not have a credit record.
IRS Notices to Child: IRS notices that your child’s taxes are overdue or that your child’s social security number was used on another individual’s tax return.
Denial of Child’s Government Benefits: If your child is denied government benefits because your child’s social security number is already being used for benefits by another party.
Take Action If Your Child’s Identity May Have Been Stolen
If you believe that your child’s identity may have been stolen, start by taking the following actions:
Document Everything! Document the details of every mailing, call or interaction that you have related to the identity theft. Be prepared for some frustrations – the parties involved are all independent actors and may not collaborate with you or the other parties to fix the issue.
Report the Fraud: File a police report and contact any business involved to ensure that the fraud is brought to their attention.
Get Credit Alert on File: Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax: (800) 525-6285; Experian: (888) 397-3742; and TransUnion: (800) 680-7289), request an immediate 90 day credit alert on your child’s file – remember that this alert will have to be renewed every 90 days.
Freeze Your Child’s Credit: Freeze your child’s credit to block any unauthorized credit inquiries. You will need to contact each major credit bureau in writing to request the freeze. They typically require copies of the child’s social security card and birth certificate and the requesting parent’s identification (driver’s license and bank statement or similar mail with your current address). Follow up with the credit bureaus to ensure that the freeze has been put into place. There may be a small fee involved to initiate the freeze and to temporarily or permanently remove the freeze.
Clean Up the Credit History: Contact the three major credit bureaus to remove any fraudulent information from your child’s account and credit history.
Monitor your child’s credit report regularly, as there may be a delay in using the stolen personal information. Your child’s stolen personal data could be sold multiple times and pass through several hands before being used.
Be Vigilant To Avoid Identity Theft
You should take the same measures to protect your child’s identity as you would to protect your own. Consider the following actions:
Safeguard Personal Information: Keep all social security cards in a secure place at home or in a safe deposit box. Shred any unnecessary documents containing social security numbers. Don’t carry around documents or send e-mails which contain social security numbers and avoid using them as identifying information.
Monitor Credit Reports: Request credit reports for you and your child at least annually. Each person is entitled to one free copy of their credit report every 12 months (www.annualcreditreport.com). Once received, review the credit report and report any anomalies.
Educate Your Family: Get educated and educate your child about internet and e-mail safety including discouraging them from sharing passwords and sending or disclosing any identifying information on e-mail or on the internet.
Freeze Credit Record: Consider freezing your child’s credit record until they need to use it regularly so that no one can open up an account in your child’s name.
Taking these precautions will help your child avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.