Eight simple tips to prevent your children from becoming victims of America’s fastest growing crime
You may already know that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States, but you probably didn’t realize that the fastest growing segment of identity theft victims are children.
The FTC reports that 5% of the 255,000 victims of identity theft in 2005, the most recent year in which data on the subject was available, were under the age of 18. The number of victims is up 40% from 3% in 2003. Most of these cases take place very early on with over half occurring prior to the age of 6 according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Awareness seems to be the biggest problem in helping to prevent child identity theft. A recent Experian-Gallup poll found that 68% of respondents had heard little or nothing about identity theft crimes against children. But, that doesn’t mean that children aren’t falling victim to identity thieves at a rapid rate. That same poll found that 7% of respondents knew a child that had been victimized by identity theft.
Identity theft perpetrated against children can be particularly debilitating because it is often years or decades after the crime occurs that the victim becomes aware. There are hundreds of stories of adults that attempt to apply for their first line of credit only to find that their identity had been stolen years earlier while they were underage and, as a result, their credit was destroyed before they even had a chance start practicing healthy credit habits.
We have compiled eight simple steps that parents or guardians can take to help ensure that their children don’t fall victim to identity thieves.
- Eliminate non-essential disclosure of your child’s social security number
- Monitor your child’s postal mail
- Limit the amount of personal information that is available about your child on the Internet
- Contact each of the three major credit bureaus on your child’s behalf every quarter
- Contact the Social Security Administration on your child’s behalf at least once per year
- Involve your local authorities if you feel your child has been victimized
- Consider a proactive identity theft solution provider for your entire family
- Help curb child identity theft by sharing these tips with other parents
Eliminate non-essential disclosure of your child’s social security number
A social security number is the single most dangerous piece of information in the hands of an identity thief. With your child’s social security number an identity thief potentially has the ability to open lines of credit in your child’s name.
You should only provide this information when it is absolutely necessary. Anytime anyone asks you to provide your child’s social security number ask the following questions:
- Why is my child’s social security number required?
- How will my child’s social security number be used?
- Who will have access to my child’s social security number?
- Where will my child’s social security number be stored?
If the requestor is not able to provide you with sufficient answers to these questions then it is best to decline to provide this information.
It is also a good idea to store your child’s social security card in a safe place such as a locked file cabinet, safe or safety deposit box. You should never let your child have direct access to their social security card as it is too easy for it to be misplaced and end up in the wrong hands.
If credit card offers, late payment notices or other suspicious financial items show up addressed to your underage child don’t assume they are simply mistakes by the sender. Your minor child should never receive:
- Offers of credit from lenders of any kind including credit card companies, mortgage lenders or student loans.
- Bills, past due or collections notices for any type of financial or other type of account
- Social Security Administration account statements
If you do receive these types of communications, or any other suspicious looking mail, in your child’s name follow up with the company or agency that sent them to determine the reason they were sent in the first place.
If there are unauthorized financial accounts (or any type of account that was not legitimately opened) in your child’s name then it is likely your child has fallen victim to identity theft. Notify the company where the account is held as well as all three of the credit bureaus (see point #4 below) and your local police department (see point #6 below).
Limit the amount of personal information that is available about your child on the Internet
The Internet is a great tool to communicate with friends and family, but it is also a great source for identity thieves to mine personal information about your child. Never post any personal information about your child, such as date of birth or address, on any website (especially not any website that is publicly available or doesn’t have password protection).
If your child is old enough to access the Internet on their own, make sure you monitor their usage as well. Many websites such as MySpace, Facebook and others make it very easy for children to post vast amounts of personal information about themselves.
Also, make sure you discuss the various dangers of openly communicating personal information to strangers on the Internet with your children. They are never too young to start practicing safe Internet usage.
Contact each of the three major credit bureaus on your child’s behalf every quarter
None of the three major credit bureaus, which include Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, maintain credit files on anyone under the age of 18. If your underage child has a credit file with one of the bureaus that potentially means they have been victimized.
We recommend that parents request a credit report on behalf of their child from each of the three credit bureaus once per quarter.
Here are instructions on how to contact Experian, Equifax and TransUnion on your child’s behalf:
Phone Number: (888) 397-3742
Address to send inquiries about child Identity Theft:
PO Box 9532
Allen , TX 75013
How to request a review of your child’s credit file from Experian:
Parents are required to mail in documentation that prooves they are the legal guardian of the child. An example of sufficient documentation is a child’s birth certificate and a copy of the parent’s driver’s license.
If no credit file exists for the child then Experian will send written notification by mail. This is good news because it means your child’s identity has not been compromised.
If a credit file does exist then Experian will send a copy of the credit file to the parent. This means that it is likely your child’s identity has been stolen. The parent may then dispute any fraudulent items on their child’s credit file. Experian will also place a credit lock on the child’s credit file so that no additional credit may be extended to them until they turn 18 years old.
Phone Number: (800) 658-1111
Address to send inquiries about child Identity Theft:
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta , GA 30348
How to request a review of your child’s credit file from Equifax:
Parents are required to mail in documentation that prooves they are the legal guardian of the child. An example of sufficient documentation is a child’s birth certificate and a copy of the parent’s driver’s license. If a record is found Equifax will erase any fraudulent accounts and remove the credit file from their system and flag the child’s social security number as belonging to a minor. Equifax does not provide copies of the child’s credit report to parents.
Phone Number: (800) 916-8800
Address to send inquiries about child Identity Theft:
Trans Union PO Box 6790
Fullerton , CA 92834
How to request a review of your child’s credit file from TransUnion:
TransUnion has set up a special email address for parents to use in order to request their child’s credit report. Parents can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. TransUnion will then send back instructions on how to request a credit report. If a credit report does exist then TransUnion will lock the child’s credit file until they turn 18 years old.
It is important to remember that contacting just one of the credit bureaus is not sufficient protection because many lenders only report to one or two of the credit bureaus. So, for example, if only Experian is contacted and a lender that has extended credit to an identity thief pretending to be your child only reports that credit to Equifax and TransUnion, you would not be alerted.
Keeping up with all three bureaus each quarter, or twelve total inquiries per year, can be a lot of work but it is extremely important. It can be overwhelming and that is why we strongly suggest that parents consider protecting their families with and identity protection service such as LifeLock, which does most of the work for you (see point #7 below).
The social security administration can be reached by phone at (800) 772-1213 and will be able to provide you with any records attached to your child’s social security number.
Your minor child should not have any work history associated with their social security number. If they do, it is likely that someone is fraudulently using it to gain employment. If your child has a work permit and does have a valid work history, make sure the employers match up business where your child has been employed.
Keep in mind that it is possible for identity thieves to use your child’s social security number without using their name. Since the Social Security administration uses a number and name matching system their check would not catch this type of identity theft.
If you believe that your child has become a victim of identity thieves then make sure to file a report with your local police department immediately. This report will help you and your child recover from the identity theft incident.
Without a police report it may be difficult to prove that some of the fraudulent charges were no perpetrated by a third party and you may, in the worst case scenario,
be held financially liable. Additionally, based off of the police report all three major credit bureaus will amend or erase the fraudulent information on your child’s credit report.
If you don’t know how to contact your local police department simply dial directory assistance and ask for the non emergency telephone number for the local police.
Protecting your children from identity theft is an extremely important but time consuming job. It is possible to keep up with all the aspects of this important task, but we strongly recommend that most parents consider using an identity theft protection service to keep their child’s identity safe and secure.
We have reviewed all of the major identity theft protection services and have found that only one, LifeLock, provides extensive identity theft protection for children.
LifeLock checks your child’s credit file at each of the major credit bureaus and their account with the social security administration multiple times per year. If any fraudulent activity is detected LifeLock will place fraud alerts on your child’s credit report and flag them as being associated with a minor child.
The service is extremely economical at less than $2.00 per month and will save you hours of work and research. It also gives you peace of mind that a professional organization that is focused on proactive identity theft protection, and well versed in its protection, is safeguarding your children.
In order to enroll your child in LifeLock one or more parents must also be a member of the service. We strongly recommend this service for all members of your family.
Unfortunately, child identity theft will likely be a growing risk for years to come. As a parent you have the opportunity to not only help protect your own children from being victimized, but other children as well.
To that end, please help us curb the threat of child identity theft by telling every parent you know about this guide.