Children and Identity Theft – Guest Post

These days everyone has heard of identity theft. Every day in the news there is another example of stolen information such as social security numbers, credit cards, and more. Most savvy consumers take certain precautions to protect their identity. These include both online and offline measures such as:

  • Don’t give personal information to telemarketers over the phone
  • Have mail held at your post office while traveling
  • Pay close attention to all monthly charges on credit cards
  • Request a credit report periodically
  • Maintain copies of checks and transaction up to one year
  • Use strong passwords for any online financial accounts and change them periodically

By taking the above actions a consumer should feel confident that they are about a secure as anyone can be against identity theft. Few people ever consider however that their child’s identity may be at risk as well.

Child identity theft can go unnoticed for years. Since children don’t use credit cards or take out loans an identity thief could take advantage of a minor’s social security number until the child turns 18 and applies for a student loan or credit card. By then so much damage has been done it may take a very long time to straighten out the problem. In 2011 ID Analytics, a San Diego based company that offers a suite of identity protection solutions, did a study of the minors that were enrolled in its services. From the study the company estimates that 140,000 identity frauds are committed annually against minors. AllClear ID also claims that their studies suggest that about 10% of the children in America have had their social security number used by someone else in a fraudulent manner. These numbers are much higher than previously thought.

Children make prime targets for identity theft as they have a clear credit history and are highly unlikely to access their credit for many years. Children in foster care and those that are enrolled in federal programs such as food stamps are at an even higher risk as their personal information changes hands often and with many different groups. Children’s social security numbers are used to:

  • Apply for credit cards
  • Apply for employment
  • Apply for a mortgage
  • Apply for medical and federal benefits

This has become such a problem that several states are already looking into ways they can protect a child’s identity. Maryland is currently working on a bill that would allow parents to create a credit file for their under-age child with the various credit bureaus and then freeze it. This would get the child into the system, but prevent any changes or additions the file. This prevents thieves from taking advantage of the fact that the minor has no history and also immediately flags the potential fraud when it occurs. The bill would also allow the guardians of incapacitated people to freeze and manage accounts. Utah has also created its own Child Identity Protection program through TransUnion, and New York is carefully looking into the bill that is currently being worked on in Maryland.

Until the states or federal government catch up to this problem here are a few steps parents can take immediately to protect the identity of their child:

Request the child’s credit report – Each year parents should request their child’s credit report from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This is free and will reveal if any credit cards or loans have been taken out using the child’s social security number.

Limit access to the child’s information – If a business claims they require your child’s social security number ask why. It is surprising how many times a parent is required to give out this information and it is important to keep track of who has it. Common businesses that require this information are hospitals, doctors, and schools. It is also much safer to give this information out when calling the business as opposed to being called by them. If a business asks for the information it can be wise to look them up and call them back thus making sure they are who they say they are.

Make sure information is handled with care – Children often play on sports teams or with other organized groups that require a birth certificate to participate. Understand how this information is stored and what precautions are taken to protect it.

Check social security earnings record – Parents can check their child’s social security earning record by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213. This will reveal if the social security number has been used to obtain employment.

It is important to act as quickly as possible when identity theft is suspected. A great deal of damage can be avoided if the issue is quickly resolved. The Federal Trade Commission can be contacted at 1-877-438-4338 and can help parents quickly investigate and stop suspected fraud.

About the Author

Jon T. Norwood writes regularly at Internet Service, a site that offers consumers the information they need to find the right internet provider.

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