When you think of the typical identity theft victim, what comes to mind? Maybe a middle aged person who had their wallet and credit cards stolen. Or a senior whose information was taken when filling out medical forms. In actuality, identity theft can happen at any age, and it’s a growing problem among children. A Carnegie Mellon University study found that 10% of children had someone else using their Social Security number, and children were targeted 51 times more frequently than adults. Scammers may prefer to target children because it’s less likely to be discovered, and children have spotless credit reports.
Every time you fill out a form with your child’s personal information, it could get in to the wrong hands. These forms are plentiful: you come across them at school, the doctor’s office, and at activities like sports, summer camp, and after-school care. A child’s identity could also be exposed through a data breach, which are becoming more common. Additionally, a portion of child identity theft is perpetrated by family members and family friends that have access to the child’s personal information.
The consequences of child ID theft can be especially damaging because it’s often discovered when a child is leaving the nest: applying for their first credit card, a student loan, or renting their own apartment. Having to correct an error on a credit report takes time and can be emotionally draining – stunting a child’s opportunity at independence. If the identity theft happened years ago, it can be difficult to catch the perpetrator or follow the paper trail and the damage to the child’s credit may be huge.
Identity theft is scary, and it can happen to anyone. Luckily, there are steps you can take to lessen your risk. Help your child build a strong financial foundation and start off on the right foot by following these tips:
- Preventative measures: although few cases of identity theft are preventable, there are some things you can do to protect your child’s identity. The FTC recommends safeguarding your child’s Social Security Number – don’t give it out unless absolutely necessary and make sure whoever you give it to is protecting it as well. They also urge parents to limit what kids share online, use strong passwords, and shred documents with personal information. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has even more detailed recommendations for how to handle your child’s personal information. A vital step is simply checking your child’s credit report for incorrect information, especially when they turn 16.
- Warning signs: even if you do everything in your power to safeguard your child’s personal information, identity theft can still happen. Watch out for these red flags from the ITRC: calls from collection agencies; bills sent to your home in your child’s name; your child receives a warrant, ticket, or notice about owed taxes; your child is denied a loan, apartment, or credit card because of bad credit; or your child is unable to obtain a driver’s license or denied a renewal.
- What to do if you’ve been affected: if your child has been a victim of identity theft, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to fix the problem. The FTC says that you should call each credit reporting company and contact any business where your child’s information was misused. gov/child will be your one-stop shop to report the problem and learn steps to solving it. Additionally, report identity theft, and any other fraud or scams, to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.