Identity theft is a disturbing crime regardless of your age. The idea that your personal information is now in the hands of people with bad intentions can leave you feeling quite vulnerable.
Now imagine the panic of discovering that your minor child’s personal information has been stolen and is being used fraudulently.
Why Would Anyone Steal a Child’s Identity?
The sad truth is that children can make particularly appealing targets for identity thieves for several reasons.
First, your children’s credit reports are blank slates. There isn’t any negative information on a child’s credit reports that would hamper a thief’s efforts to open fraudulent accounts. On the other hand, if an adult’s identity is stolen, it might not be as useful, depending on the prior credit history and the current credit score.
Another reason why children can be appealing identity theft targets is because the crime might not be detected right away. Child identity theft often goes unnoticed for years until the child grows old enough to apply for credit, housing, utilities, or a job in his or her own name. Then they find out the hard way that they’ve been the victim of fraud for years, and now have a horrible credit report as a result.
Warning Signs of Child Identity Theft
As a parent, you can help to safeguard your child’s information and non-existent credit reports from identity thieves. One way to accomplish this is to learn the warning signs so you’re able to recognize indications that your child’s identity has been stolen.
Here are some red flags that should tip you off to a potential problem:
- Your child receives phone calls or letters from collection agencies.
- Your child is mailed a credit card in his or her own name (and you didn’t add the child as an authorized user to any of your existing credit card accounts).
- Your child is turned down for government benefits because the benefits are already being paid to someone else using the same Social Security number.
- Your child receives a notice from the IRS regarding unpaid income taxes or stating that his or her Social Security number was used on another tax return.
- Your child receives pre-approved offers of credit or insurance in the mail, in his or her own name.
- You try to open a bank account or other financial account for your child, but he or she is turned down due to negative information on a consumer report (e.g., a credit report or ChexSystems report).
Undoing the Damage
If you discover that your child’s identity has been stolen, it may take some work on your part to undo the damage. The good news is that federal law, namely the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), does afford many protections to victims of identity theft—that includes your children.
For starters, you can freeze your child’s three credit reports (Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian). This prevents fraudsters from committing further damage to your child’s credit because it takes the credit reports out of circulation.
If your children don’t have credit reports yet the credit bureaus will create one in your child’s name, and then freeze it.
Freezing your child’s credit reports is free and easy. You can make the requests online here:
Once you child is old enough to open credit in his or her own name, the reports can be placed back into circulation. Until then, a credit freeze will provide an extra layer of safety to thwart would-be thieves.
You can also file an identity theft report on behalf of your child at IdentityTheft.gov. Once completed, a copy of the report can be sent to the three credit bureaus along with a list of any fraudulent accounts you are disputing. The credit bureaus will be required under the FCRA to block the reported, fraudulent information from your child’s credit reports within four business days.
At the same time you should contact every lender that has issued some form of credit in your child’s name. They’ll want proof that they’ve been defrauded, just like your child has been defrauded, which may require some work. But, once that has been completed they’ll stop reporting the account and cease contacting your family.
More by John Ulzheimer:
- Use a Credit Freeze to Stop Identity Thieves Cold
- Four Ways You Could Be Hurting Your Credit Without Realizing It
- Three Legitimate Ways to Raise Your Credit Score Fast
John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. The author of four books on the subject, Ulzheimer has been featured thousands of times over the past decade in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, NBC Nightly News, The Los Angeles Times, CNBC, and countless others. With professional experience at both Equifax and FICO, Ulzheimer is the only credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has been an expert witness in over 230 credit related lawsuits and has been qualified to testify in both federal and state courts on the topic of consumer credit.