Child identity theft is a surprisingly lucrative business for criminals. For them, this is the perfect crime. If they create a “synthetic identity” for a child, they can use that identity for up to 18 years with no one knowing – and no consequences. Children are 50% more likely than adults to have their identity stolen, and one in forty households with kids under 18 report that their identity has been stolen. Learn more about what can happen – and how to both protect and educate your kids – in today’s article.
You might remember that it’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness week. In honor of that, this is the last in a three part series on identity theft. Check out Monday’s post on protecting yourself from tax identity theft, and Wednesday’s post on protecting your corporate identity.
Some Sad Facts
Sadly, 27% of child identity theft crimes are committed by people who know the child – friends or family members, sometimes even parents. The remaining 73% of crimes are committed by criminals who steal the child’s information either through a data breach or good old-fashioned theft. They then create a synthetic identity for the social security number, using the real number combined with a fake date of birth to steal the identity and use it – likely undetected – for years.
How can a criminal use this synthetic identity? In ways that it would be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to use an adults identity:
- Get a job
- Rent an apartment
- Apply for utilities like phones and electricity
- Apply for credit cards, loans, savings and checking accounts
- Receive welfare, unemployment, or medical benefits
- Commit medical fraud
- Go to prison and have a criminal record
So if someone steals your childs identity, they could apply for student loans or an apartment and find themselves unable to do so, because of “their” bad credit history or criminal record.
When I look at my three boys – 14, 10, and 2 – I can’t imagine some criminal trying to use their identities to commit crimes. But of course, it can happen to anyone. And particularly with the large data breaches recently, their data is likely floating out there somewhere. So what can we parents do to help protect them?
Protecting Your Kids
So what can we parents do to help safeguard our children? You’d be surprised at the options available to you now. Here’s some tips to help you:
- Don’t ignore weird things. If you ever get odd mail or calls about your child, pay close attention. Collection calls, demand letters, information from the IRS – anything unusual shouldn’t be ignored as a mistake. Instead make sure to contact the companies and find out what’s going on
- Protect your childrens documents. Social security cards, birth certificates, and passports should be secure, preferably in a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box away from your home.
- Don’t provide personal information unless absolutely necessary. And if you have to provide it for, say, school, make sure to find out how they’ll protect that information. Don’t give doctors your kids social security numbers, and don’t provide SSN’s and dates of birth unless it’s absolutely required.
- Teach your kids about online security, and protecting their information. Once they’re old enough to use the internet, be sure to teach them about good password creation (no 123456!), not putting their name/address/phone number/birthday online, not giving information to people they don’t know, and so on. If you’re looking for a resource, I would highly recommend checking out the Boy Scout Cyber Chip requirements. This has resources for kids (girls and boys) of all ages to teach them about online safety in an age-appropriate way. Just click on the grade for your kids and look at the requirements They have games you can play, and videos to watch, that are age appropriate.
- Check for a credit report. Because your children shouldn’t have one. Go to the free annual credit report site and try to pull a credit report on your kids. Hopefully you will get no hit. If you do get a hit, there’s likely trouble brewing, and you’ll need to see what’s going on and get started correcting it.
- Freeze your childrens credit. In most states, you can freeze your childrens credit without them needing to be an identity theft victim. Here are the processes for Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. I will warn you that it’s not as easy to freeze a minor’s credit as it is your own. When I froze my credit, I was able to do it all online in under an hour for all three bureaus. Since the minor child process is more involved, I would set aside a weekend to take care of this. It can be worth it if you are concerned about identity theft, though, and it’s good that today it’s even possible to do this. I remember that only a few years ago they wouldn’t let you freeze a minors credit at all.
If you’d like to learn more, I recommend reading FTC resources on Child Identity Theft.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series – if you missed it, be sure to check out Monday’s post on protecting yourself from tax identity theft, and Wednesday’s post on protecting your corporate identity. Or you can also read some of my other identity theft articles – my identity theft victim story, research on ways to protect your credit after the Equifax hack as well as my favorite book on this subject. Identity theft is a subject I’m passionate about.
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