A child’s clean credit is a prime target for identity thieves. Criminals can pair a child’s Social Security number to another name and birth date and then rack up debt, get ID so they can work illegally or cover up their own bad credit history. In a 2011 study by the Carnegie Mellon University CyLab, 10.2 percent of the 40,000 kids studied were victims.
Identity theft can hurt a child’s financial future in many ways. Here are some things you can do to help reduce your child’s chances of becoming a victim:
1. Take Control of Your Child’s Information
As a parent, you should be the gatekeeper for information about your child. A Federal Trade Commission report says sensitive information includes your child’s Social Security number, date of birth and birth certificate. If someone is asking for that info, the FTC says you should find out everything you can before handing it over.
It’s also a good idea to keep important documents – like your child’s birth certificate and Social Security card – in a safe.
2. Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
The FTC says you should keep tabs on your children’s interactions on social media and other websites. Make sure they know that certain information should not be given to anyone — on the Internet, on the phone or in person.
If you do need to provide information on a website, to minimize the risk of identity theft, you should make sure the website is secure, beginning with “https,” and only do so on a private computer with updated firewall and anti-virus protection.
3. Know the Warning Signs
One of the reasons child identity theft is so attractive to criminals is that kids usually don’t try to use their credit until they are much older, providing years to ruin the victim’s future. The FTC says parents should watch out for any mail coming in their children’s names, especially preapproved credit card offers, as well as phone calls from collection agencies.
Another tipoff can be that the Internal Revenue Service contacts you to confirm your child’s employment or says the child failed to pay income taxes. When the IRS comes calling for your 2-year-old, you know it’s a problem.
4. Take Action
If you suspect your child is the victim of identity theft, authorities say you should alert the three major credit reporting agencies, and consider putting an initial fraud alert or a credit freeze on the credit file. You can also file a complaint with the FTC.
It’s also a good idea to consider getting identity restoration coverage, which can help to prevent identity theft and help you or your child recover if it does. In a world where your credit can open doors or slam them in your face, you want to make sure your children have all the opportunities they deserve by protecting that all-important credit score from identity thieves.