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Child Identity Theft 101

We’ve defined identity theft as: “the act in which a criminal illegally accesses and uses someone else’s personal information in order to take over or open new accounts, receive tax and government benefits, or commit crimes under a false identity.”

Identity theft can also happen to children. Child identity theft occurs when someone uses a child’s identity information and Social Security number to commit acts of fraud. 

More recently, industry leaders have noticed that our youth is becoming increasingly targeted by thieves. In fact, 14,000 individuals under the age of 19filed reports of identity theft in 2017 alone. Considering there’s a new report of identity theft filed every two seconds in the U.S., it’s important for parents, guardians, and other individuals in charge of a child's sensitive information to keep that information safe and secure, and to remain aware of all the ways child identity theft can happen.

How Child Identity Theft Happens

Physical Theft

Child identity theft is usually the result of a lost or stolen Social Security number. When a child is born, parents receive a Social Security card required to obtain tax, financial, and medical coverage for the child. In some cases, thieves check local newspaper listings for birth announcements, locate your address, and intercept your mail looking for the new SS card. If this activity goes undetected, a criminal may be able to use the Social Security number to build a new credit file and identity.

Digital Theft

A cybercrime is defined as any criminal activity carried out using a computer or the Internet. Data breaches, fake websites, email scams, and unsecured networks can make you vulnerable to an attack. Seeking the personal identity information and sensitive data stored within your connected devices and online accounts, criminals often exploit the weakest security measures first. 

Although it’s nearly impossible to avoid the repercussions of a major data breach, avoidable forms of digital attack, such as viruses and email scams, rely entirely on your willingness to accept terms, download an attachment, or hand over information. However, preventing digital theft can be easy as long as you don’t share, exchange, or store your child's identity information online. 

Parental Theft or Misuse

Due to the nature of the crime, there are few accurate studies measuring guardian theft and misuse of their child’s identity information. Young children, especially those under the supervision of an untrustworthy guardian, are at a much higher risk of having their information accidentally lost or purposefully stolen. Leaning on the clean financial record of their child, these guardians often go unnoticed until the child is old enough to realize there’s an issue. 

For authorities, detecting the crime is easiest when guardians are caught trying to address their own debts, such as back-taxes, with finances secured using their child's information.  

Signs of Child Identity Theft

You receive pre-approval letters from creditors and lenders

Using information from a credit report and profile, creditors may pre-approve your child for a line of credit. Receiving an offer or pre-approval letter means the credit profile for your child is currently active, and could be a sign that money has been borrowed. A credit profile is only established after money has been loaned, meaning a child wouldn’t have a profile with any of the major credit bureaus.

Your child has been denied government benefits

You may be denied government benefits if your child’s Social Security number is already assigned to an account. This could mean someone else is receiving those benefits after submitting a child’s lost or stolen Social Security number. 

Your child is receiving notifications from the IRS

If your child is being asked to pay income or back taxes, someone could have used your child’s stolen Social Security number when submitting tax documents to an employer.

Your child receives phone calls or mail from debt collectors

If your child has been receiving phone calls or mail from debt collectors, chances are that their Social Security number and identity information was compromised in the past.

Prevention Strategies

  • Be aware of the signs outlined above
  • Ask credit bureaus if your child has a report
  • Don’t overshare and only submit necessary information
  • Have the Smart Talk with your children about Internet safety, security, and privacy

For more information, this resource article covers the above information in more detail.

5 Recovery Tips

  1. Contact major credit bureaus. If a profile exists and a line of credit has been extended to your child, ask for a copy of the credit report and review it. After reviewing the report, you can ask the bureau to delete the account and remove any information associated with the stolen Social Security number, freeze the account, and issue a fraud alert to the other major bureaus. 
    Note: You will be asked to provide the agencies with a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration, establishing the child is a minor.
  2. File a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commision. Call 1-877-438-4338. To learn more about the FTC and how they handle consumer complaints, visit their site here.
  3. File an identity theft report with the FTCs recovery team. You can file your report online through their online portal.
  4. Close any fraudulent accounts. Contact any businesses where your child’s information may have been used. They may require a claim confirmation from the FTC before closing the account.
  5. Remain educated, aware, and protected against future attacks. Unfortunately, once an identity has been compromised, the individual and their information is likely to be targeted down the road. If your child was the victim of identity theft, consider researching an identity theft monitoring company which offers age-specific plans. Designed to scan for the unique identity information of individuals under the age of 18, ID monitoring services for children can be an invaluable layer of defense. As busy parents, its difficult to keep tabs on your child's information. However, after recovering from ID theft, it’s extremely important for parents to utilize the tools and services that can alert you to future issues.