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
Sorry to start with the depressing news – but 27% of child identity theft crimes are committed by people who know the child. This includes friends, family members, and 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 – 15, 11, and 3 – I can’t imagine some criminal trying to use their identities . But of course, it can happen to anyone. And particularly with the recent large data breaches, 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. Don’t ignore unusual things as a mistake – this includes collection calls, demand letters, information from the IRS. Instead make sure to contact the companies and find out what’s going on
- Protect your childrens documents. This includes social security cards, birth certificates, passports, adoption certificates, and other personal information. They 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. You shouldn’t give doctors your kids social security numbers. Don’t provide SSN’s and dates of birth anywhere, 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. You 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. It took under an hour for all three bureaus. Since the minor child process is more involved, I would set aside a weekend to do it. It can be worth the time if you are concerned about identity theft. Frankly, it’s good that today it’s even possible. Only a few years ago, you couldn’t 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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9 thoughts on “Child Identity Theft – Thieves Are Coming For Them”
Great information, Liz! We’ve checked our kids credit reports (age 19 and 21) and froze their files. We’ve also taught them the importance of keeping their personal information private and not to ignore those “weird” letters or inquiries. Identity theft is nothing to mess around with. Just the time and energy involved to make things right is crazy to think about! Nice post!
I don’t have children yet, but I am beginning to have to alert my parents about new ways that hackers are using technology to obtain people’s identities. What is obvious spam for someone like me, looks like a great offer to someone who isn’t used to computers/email. My dad avoids technology at all costs, so he is definitely a potential easy target for some of these people.
Thanks for sharing!
Several years ago my parents were alerted that our child hood pediatrician ‘s office had been broken into, and there was a chance my brother’s info was compromised. As far as we know the files were the target of the break in.
Unfortunately back in the day, and even now the way they track you at the doctor’s office is social security number.
I overheard a coworker mentioning back when your college id was your social.
I wish there was a number to use for stuff like that and a way to use the social for more secure things. Of course we’ll soon get rfid chips at birth to scan for everything.
Thank you for great info all week!
How scary! I actually refuse to give my or my children’s SSN to doctors. So far I’ve never had a problem with it. They have all my info to bill me, they have no need for my SSN. Hope it’s been a useful series!
Thanks for the reminder CMO! I need to check to see if my 1.5 year old daughter has a credit report!
Hopefully she doesn’t!
I just did this for my kids and no joke on the effort involved! Thank god for securing many official copies at birth for them (born abroad to US citizens so that includes US Embassy CBRAs and notarized translations of birth certs etc etc)! And it seems like prevention efforts should not cost a thing (TransUnion fee is $15 for my state)!
Also just thinking … If someone stole a minor’s identity and your child comes of age to find their SS# was stolen, can’t the very fact of their birth date get them off the hook? Wondering on practical repercussions to them / their credit.. or perhaps having criminal activity sticks to their SS# and may become so time consuming to them in the future?
Thanks for this post..
Good question-given the date of birth differences they should be able to clear their names. For the most part it will just be time consuming and difficult to clear things up, rather than financially devastating. The companies involved have little incentive to help, and it can take months of follow up (sometimes years) to get things squared away
It’s a scary world we live in, isn’t it! 🙁