Children and Identity Theft
By Pam Henderson
With the recent security breach of a major credit bureau, it’s a good time to revisit the topic of identity theft, and how our children may be vulnerable to this insidious cyber crime. The recent hack has been said to affect as many as 1 out of every 2 people with a credit history. So, if you applied for a credit card, a mortgage or person loan, you could be at risk.
Unfortunately, because credit may be checked without one’s knowledge by creditors, landlords or prospective lenders for promotional rates, not every person will know definitively whether or not his or her personal information (including social security numbers, birth dates and drivers’ license numbers) has been compromised by the recent breach. Some financial experts have suggested that anyone with a credit history should assume that he or she has been affected, and to be proactive in checking and protecting one’s credit. While a credit freeze requires the freeze to be lifted every time you apply for a loan or credit card, it minimizes the risk of fraudulent use of yours or your child’s credit.
The Indiana Attorney General has an easy-to-read website at https://secure.in.gov/attorneygeneral. You can also go to www.annualcreditreport.com to obtain your free credit report, which is authorized by Federal law. You are entitled to a free report annually from each of the three major reporting agencies.
Unfortunately, our children are not immune to identity theft.
According to Robert Chappell, who authored, “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know,” more than 500,000 children are affected each year by identity theft. Moreover, more than half of them are under age 6. Chappell goes on to explain that children are targeted because the crime can go undetected for years. Most children typically have no reason to establish credit. So, by the time your child has that first “W-2 paying job”, applies for college financial aid, or opens a student bank account or college credit card, he or she may be well into the teen years. A thief could have spent more than a decade on an expensive shopping spree, at your child’s expense.
The Federal Trade Commission advises parents to watch for warning signs of stolen identity:
- Credit offers directed to your child
- Collection agencies contact you for your child’s unpaid debts
- Your child is declined for a bank account due to bad credit
- The IRS reports that your child’s Social Security number appears on another person’s tax return
The FTC asks parents who discover that their child’s identity has been stolen to file a police report and file a report at www.ftc.gov. Parents can take steps to protect their child’s identity. Social Security cards and birth certificates should stay in a safe place. Educate your children about keeping their Social Security number private. In most instances, there is no reason for a child to know his or her Social Security number until applying for a job or perhaps a driving permit.
In addition, educate your child about keeping his or her identity safe in social media. Use privacy settings, don’t share passwords and connect only to familiar persons. Don’t share address, birth date, or other identifying information. Also, keep security software updated and do not open emails from unknown individuals.
There is no guarantee when it comes to protecting one from credit theft, but reviewing your credit report is a critical first step.