Bad guys could steal your child’s identity or personal information to commit fraud or synthesize a new identity. Your child’s personal information is a blank slate, and that’s the perfect playground for a long-haul identity theft operation.
Even if your child is a minor, that won’t stop criminals from changing a birth year to scam a loan. Learn how to spot child identity theft and protect your child’s information.
Signs of possible child identity theft
Some child identity scams go undetected for years. The theft becomes evident only after the victim grows up and is denied:
- A college or car loan
- A home or apartment lease
- A phone or utility service
- Government benefits
There are some red flags you can watch for in the meantime, however. Your child might receive correspondence in their name, such as:
- Letters from collection agencies looking to settle unpaid debts
- Letters from the IRS requesting taxes
- An approval (or denial) of unemployment benefits
- Loan or credit card preapproval offers
- Offers for auto, renters or home insurance
Parents might also discover:
- Unrecognized doctor’s visits or medical procedures for their child listed on their health insurance statements
- Letters about being a cosigner on a credit card in their child’s name
Child identities are an untapped opportunity for scammers
A blank slate won’t set off credit monitoring alarm bells, so it’s easy for fraudsters to do their thing. Without a credit history, the fraudulent activity may appear as someone building their credit, even if that someone is your 7-year-old. An unchecked identity can go a long way.
Personal information is sold on the dark web, allowing scammers to use your child’s data to do things like:
- Apply for government benefits (unemployment, health care or nutrition assistance)
- Open a bank or credit card account
- Apply for utilities (water, gas, electricity or phone service)
- Apply for a student or personal loan
- Rent a place to live
- Buy a house
- Secure a job
Trash can be information treasure for criminals
Be careful not to discard trash containing personal information. You could be unwittingly handing over valuable bits for synthesizing an identity, like:
- Social Security numbers
- Street addresses
- School information
- Medical information
- Printed emails — A discarded email could expose your child’s legal name, nickname, school, medical history or other sensitive data.
Even if you shred most of your personal information, you might overlook the boring stuff criminals count on when running a scam. Criminals don’t need a complete roster of information to inflict damage.
The many ways your child’s personal information can be exploited
Your child’s information could pass to multiple criminal buyers for various scams, such as financial or trafficking exploits.
Criminals exploit the powerful tidbits they’ve pieced together to bait children and gain their trust. A scam communication seems legitimate and engaging when someone mentions familiar terminology, interests or hangouts.
If someone steals your child’s identity
If you suspect someone has used your child’s information to commit fraud, follow this advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Protection Financial Bureau:
- Close the fraudulent accounts — Alert the companies involved. Ask for written confirmation that your child isn’t responsible for the bill. Keep copies of these letters.
- Contact the three credit bureaus —Send the credit bureaus a completed copy of the FTC’s Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration form with a letter requesting that they remove all accounts, account inquiries and collection notices from the credit file associated with your child’s name or personal information.
- Freeze your child’s credit report — If your child is under 16, you can request a free credit freeze (aka security freeze) to make it harder for someone to open an account in their name. To freeze your child’s credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus:
- Maintain detailed records and retain them for several years — It can take months to correct inaccuracies and sometimes things fall through the cracks. Keep records of all communications about your child’s identity theft for proof that your child is not responsible for these criminal activities.
If you have identity theft protection or cyber liability insurance, contact your insurance company for help with reporting and disputes.
Reporting child identity theft
Report child identity theft to the FTC. Include as many details as possible.
If you live outside the U.S. or are a victim of an international scam, you can report international scams to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.
Ways to protect your child’s identity
Take proactive steps to protect your child’s information:
- Put a freeze on your child’s credit.
- Talk to your kids about protecting personal information in real life and online. Empower them to say no if they feel pressured.
- Be careful about what you share online.
- Make a habit of checking your child’s credit information annually. Some credit cards and independent services offer credit and dark web monitoring, including for minor children.
- Ask these questions before giving anyone your child’s Social Security number or identifying information, including your child’s school:
- Why do you need it?
- How will you protect it?
- Do you use encryption and securely shred all paper files?
- Can you use a different identifier?
- Can you use the last four digits of the Social Security number instead?
- Store birth certificates, passports, life insurance policies, wills and other important identifying information in a locked file cabinet.
- Consider purchasing a virtual private network plan to encrypt your data at home and on the go.
- Remove address labels from packages before recycling them.
- Peel labels off medication bottles before recycling them. Shred the identifying information on the paper inserts.
- Purchase a quality crosscut or confetti document shredder that can manage staples, paper clips, CDs and external drives. Refer to the National Security Agency/Central Security Service’s evaluated products list for paper shredders if you’re unsure where to start. Or check for free secure shredding events in your area.
- Wipe or secure erase computer disks to remove data before retiring or recycling them.
- Remove memory cards and perform hard resets on tablets, smartphones and office equipment to reset the data to factory defaults.
- Securely destroy computer drives and embedded memory on office equipment using magnetic media degaussers (magnetizing) or solid-state destruction (shredding, crushing or disintegrating) before discarding them.
Your child’s personal information is an identity scammer’s day at the park. Knowing what to watch out for is a great first step.