child identity theftUpdated: Dec. 30, 2016

Several hospitals in Pennsylvania made a recent decision regarding a time-long New Year’s tradition that turned some heads. Although it’s common for the first babies born on Jan. 1 to have their names published in local newspapers, hospitals in the Richmond, PA area decided to skip out. The reason? A fear of new babies being kidnapped from the hospital and families’ privacy being invaded. Although this fear is not unfounded, it’s also not entirely realistic. However, something that is worth considering when publishing the names of newborns — or children altogether — is child identity theft. We talk a lot about adults whose identities are stolen, but children under 18 are increasingly having their identities stolen.

What is child identity theft?

Although child identity theft is pretty similar to adult identity theft, it can be much more damaging. According to a study conducted in 2012 by the Identity Theft Assistance Center, children under 18 are at a high risk of having their identities misused in some form. Approximately 2.5% or 1/40 households in the U.S. with children under 18 experience identity fraud at some point. Even worse, child identity theft is much harder to spot and resolve than adult identity theft, as noted by the same study, which found that 17% of victims under 18 were victimized for at least one year or more. This is because children, unlike adults, are not routinely having their credit checked or taking out loans or credit cards. You might not even realize your child’s identity has been stolen until your child is denied for their first credit card or your family is denied benefits or coverage for a medical procedure.

One of the most popular ways for your child’s identity to be stolen is for his or her social security number to be combined with a different date of birth. This creates a synthetic identity which the thief can then use for any number of purposes. It is also not uncommon for friends or family members to use a child’s identity to open up credit card accounts or take out a mortgage. This is known as “friendly fraud” and, according to the ITAC’s study, accounts for more than 70% of child identity theft cases. No matter how the fraud is perpetrated, often by the time it is discovered, it is too late — the child’s credit history is destroyed.

How can I tell if my child’s identity has been stolen?

According to the FTC, some of the warning signs to look for include: Notifications from the IRS that your child did not pay income taxes (or that his or her social security number was used on another tax return), collection bills or bills for services or products you didn’t receive in your child’s name and being turned down for government benefits because an account using your child’s social security number already exists.

How can I keep my child safe?

There are a number of ways you can help keep child identity theft from becoming a stain on your child’s life.

1. Don’t give out your child’s information unless absolutely necessary. Often, social security numbers are requested on forms as an easy identifier. However, you can’t be certain how this information will be used or where forms will be stored. Even computer records aren’t always secure — as proven by last year’s Community Health Systems data breach. If you are asked to provide your child’s social security number, don’t be afraid to ask questions: How will the information be used, how long will it be stored, how will it be stored, how will it be disposed of, etc. You can always ask to provide an alternate identifier, or simply leave the social security line blank when filling out forms at a doctor’s office or somewhere else, including your child’s school.

2. Store documents containing personal information securely. This includes any paperwork that contains your child’s date of birth, full name or social security number. Do not carry birth certificates or social security cards around. Instead, purchase a fire-safe lock box, safe or locking filing cabinet to keep sensitive documents. Unfortunately, child identity theft is often at the hands of family or friends, so it’s wise to never leave this information where it can be easily copied by those outside your immediate family.

3. Dispose of documents safely. When it comes to documents containing your child’s information that you don’t intend to keep, simply throwing them into the trash won’t be enough to deter a criminal. Many scammers target garbage bins in hopes of finding mail and other papers they can take information from. Stay one step ahead by shredding all of your documents before they hit the bin. Be sure to get a cross-cut shredder, which will destroy papers completely so they cannot be pieced back together by any would-be identity thieves.

4. Talk to your child about sharing information online. Kids these days get online at shockingly young ages, and that can lead to all sorts of trouble. As soon as your child is old enough to access the Internet, have a talk about what is and is not okay to share — ideally, children should never be sharing their names, addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates or any other identifying information. It’s also wise to talk to your kids about providing this information on forms at school. Instruct them to bring any forms asking for sensitive information home to you for approval, if they can.

5. Be aware of what information is being shared by your child’s school. Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, you are entitled to opt out of sharing contact and other directory information with third parties. Look over any form that comes home with your child or to your email from school carefully, ensuring that you know how and what information will be used and shared. Find out what directory information is collected — this can include your child’s name, address, phone number, school photo and date of birth — and opt out from having it shared with third parties if you can. Also, make sure you know what activities your child is involved with. Extracurricular activities and school-sponsored programs might release information that is not directly governed by your child’s school. It’s important to always know what information is out there and remove what you can to better protect your child.

Which identity theft service is best to protect your family?

One of the best ways to protect your child’s identity is to sign them up for identity theft protection. These services can monitor for your child’s information in ways that you might not be able to, alert you to any fraud that has been detected and help you with the identity restoration and recovery process if fraud were to take place. Many services offer coverage for children or families, but we have found Identity Guard to be one of the best choices for those looking to protect their children or grandchildren as well as themselves.

Identity Guard’s family plan allows two adults plus up to 15 children in the same household to receive coverage for $24.99/month. The plan provides extensive protection for the two adults, including 3-bureau credit report monitoring, public records scans and more, as well as kID Sure monitoring for children. This protection monitors your child’s information on criminal records, DMV records and utilities records as well as scans for your child’s social security number exposure on the Internet black market, providing alerts if anything suspicious is detected.

Read our complete identity theft protection reviews to learn more about Identity Guard and other top options for identity theft.