What Is Child Identity Theft?
Identity theft is an all-too-common occurrence given the amount of personal information that can be easily culled online. Thieves steal someone’s identity in order to obtain credit cards, secure loans, open bank accounts, fund housing, and more, wreaking havoc on the victim’s finances and credit rating.
Unfortunately, adults are not the only victims of identity theft. Fraudsters may target children online, where they present themselves as someone in a position of authority that children may not question and believe as legitimate. Thieves also comb through social media and gaming sites, gathering personal information children may post, unknowingly providing valuable information for a thief.
Additionally, many cases of child identity theft are perpetrated by a relative, usually parents. The theft often begins as an unintentional act, such as an indebted parent desperately seeking a loan, using the child’s Social Security number.
While identity thieves can target anyone, children are preferred targets for fraudsters simply because they do not have items such as driver’s licenses, credit cards, tax records, clean credit, and other identifying information. This effectively provides a fraudster with a blank slate to build a false identity.
Another reason children’s identities are preferred is that you are not likely to be informed or receive alerts about the use of your child’s identity. Because of this, thieves can open and operate accounts often for many years before the fraud is discovered.
Information such as the child’s Social Security number, date of birth, and address can be used to obtain government identification cards, establish a line of credit, qualify for a mortgage or vehicle loan, establish bank accounts, and acquire credit cards. Obtaining a child’s information is easier for thieves as well.
How Can I Protect My Child From Identity Theft?
If your child’s identity is stolen and used to obtain lines of credit, take out loans, acquire credit cards, and more, the damage to their credit rating can be so extensive that repairing it takes years. Unfortunately, theft of this kind is not usually detected until the child reaches adulthood and begins applying for college student loans, an apartment, or a car, all of which will likely be denied due to their bad credit rating.
There are measures you can take as a parent to help protect your child’s identity and personal information, such as:
- Keep information safe: Children’s identities are most commonly stolen by a known individual, typically a family member, a caregiver, or close family friend. Keep your child’s Social Security number, birth certificate, and insurance documents in a locked box, home safe, or safety deposit box. Do not share their personal information when it is not necessary to do so.
- Check credit history: Checking your child’s credit history is a quick way to determine whether their identity has been stolen and used. Children under 18 years old should not have existing credit histories, so if you find your child’s name or Social Security number attached to a credit history, it could mean their information has been stolen and used. All three of the major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, provide one free report per year that you can request to review and show authorities.
- Freeze credit: If you discover your child has an unexplained credit history, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies immediately, and request the accounts be frozen to prevent further access and use. You may be asked for additional information documentation to verify your child’s identity and your own.
- Teach online safety: Early and unrestricted access to online platforms allows your child’s information to be exposed earlier and make them targets of thieves. Educate your children about online privacy and security, and establish family rules of what information can and cannot be shared online. Teach your children how to set strong passwords on accounts and devices and how to refuse requests for their personal information.
- Monitor credit: Consider a credit monitoring program that monitors your child’s credit reports for activity and allows you to lock or unlock their credit reports.
If you suspect that your child’s identity has been stolen, report the activity to law enforcement immediately. Not only will doing so spark an investigation, but a police report is also typically required when filing a claim with lenders, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies for identity fraud. Never use your child’s identification information or Social Security number to establish accounts for yourself or another relative.
What Should I Do if I Believe My Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen?
In addition to contacting the police, if you believe, or have confirmed, that your child’s identity has been stolen and used for fraudulent purposes, you should do the following:
- Contact each of the three credit reporting agencies to alert them of the fraud and to freeze the accounts, and contact the Federal Trade Commission as well.
- Contact all of the companies who hold the fraudulent accounts in your child’s name, and request the accounts be closed and for a written letter of confirmation. You will need to provide documentation of your child’s information and a copy of the police report.
- If older children’s accounts have been compromised, have them reset all of their passwords and check to verify whether thieves used the access to send malicious emails or for other nefarious purposes.
It is in your child’s best interest for you to consult a lawyer for assistance regarding the theft of their information, especially if a family member perpetrated the theft.
Discovering someone has stolen your identity is frustrating, emotional, and financially devastating. Having your child’s identity stolen can be devastating as well and can cause damage that takes years to repair. Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. can help you fight back against fraudsters. Call us at 215-735-8600 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. If compensation is received, you may be able to cover attorney fees and other costs. We are located in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and we proudly serve clients nationwide.