what if your identity was stolen as a childNo matter how old you are, discovering that you’ve been a victim of identity theft is never a happy experience. However, young adults — especially those who have only recently become adults — can have a much more difficult time due to their unfamiliarity and inexperience when it comes to matters of credit and finances. It can be devastating for a college student attempting to get their first credit card or a recent high school grad that wants to apply for a loan to purchase a car to find out that their supposedly pristine credit is already tarnished, through no fault of their own. If you are a young adult who has learned that your identity was stolen as a child (or even very recently), don’t worry. You aren’t alone, and there are simple steps you can take to report the theft and recover.

How can a child’s identity be stolen in the first place?

There are a number of ways child identity theft can originate. A family member or someone close to your family (such as an in-home employee) could have used your information to open a credit account, or your data could have been part of a data breach and traded or sold on the Internet black market as a result. Children who have been involved with the foster care system are particularly vulnerable because their information often remains with the parent whose home they were removed from, or is moved around with them from place to place. The more hands your information passes through, the more potential there is for it to be taken advantage of. Regardless of how it came about, discovering as an adult that your identity was stolen as a child is never a pleasant experience and can often lead to feelings of anger, betrayal and helplessness.

How do you know if your identity has been stolen?

Since identity theft takes many forms, there are a bunch of ways to discover that your information has been compromised. You might discover you’ve been a victim of identity theft when you try to apply for some type of credit or service which performs a credit check (like applying to rent an apartment) and get turned down. It might be as simple as an uptick in mail addressed to you, especially credit card offers, despite you never having applied for a credit card or being a minor at the time the mail starts to arrive. Much of what can tip you off to potential identity theft hinges on the evidence that shows up on your credit reports. That’s why it’s important for you to begin requesting and analyzing your credit reports as soon as you can. Every adult in the U.S. is legally entitled to view their credit reports from all three of the reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — for free once every 12 months. You can do so by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, a government-operated website. If you’ve checked your credit reports within the past 12 months or you want a way to constantly monitor your credit reports, you may want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Most of these services provide you with all three of your credit reports upon signup, as well as alert you when changes are made to your credit reports, and if you pick one with a free trial, which most offer, you can test out the service before making a financial commitment. Regardless of the way you check your credit reports, you’ll want to be sure you look out for any accounts that you didn’t open as well as any personal information that doesn’t belong to you, as both are signs that you’ve fallen victim to identity theft.

What can you do if you discover your identity has been used by someone else?

The good news is, you have resources on your side to sort out the identity theft and take back control of your financial health. We recently wrote in detail about how to report identity theft, which is important to do because identity theft is a crime, and you may require a paper trail in order to prove it happened and get fraudulent credit reporting errors, false public records information and other types of information removed. Your best resource is identitytheft.gov, which offers step-by-step guidance for every aspect of reporting and recovering from identity theft. If you can afford it, an identity theft protection service with thorough credit report monitoring can also be helpful to keep tabs on your personal information and notify you of any further misuse beyond what damage has already been done. These services also offer specialized assistance to help guide you through the recovery process.

Confronting something as stressful as identity theft as a young adult can be a daunting task, and it might feel unfair to deal with a huge blow to your credit when you’re just getting started, but it’s possible to recover and restore your good name — and get your credit up to snuff. Follow our personal finance blog for more articles on dealing with life’s financial bumps in the road.