Before we start talking social security numbers and credit scores, I wanted to let you know I stepped outside my comfort zone today with a guest post on Mom of the Year. Meredith is an amazing blogger who writes about the REAL parts of parenting. Therefore I love her. You can read my post and browse her blog here.
In America, 2.5% of households with minors will experience child identity theft before their children reach age 18. That’s one in every forty houses with kids. Most of the time criminals achieve this by swiping a child’s social security number and then applying a fake name and birth date to it. This works because the social security number is clean, having never been used before. If it’s happened to you, you probably won’t find out about it until your child is applying for student loans or their first credit card. If they’re a victim, it can mess up their plans to attend college, get a job, or even buy a home down the road.
There are some basic things you can do to protect your child’s identity, and all of them revolve around protecting their social security number:
- Many kids’ activities now ask for your child’s social security number. Ask them why they need it. Ask them where it will be stored. Ask them who has access to the information, and how and when it will be disposed of. Try to avoid giving out the number whenever possible. If you must, see if showing the person in charge the documents is enough rather than making copies for them to keep on file.
- When sharing any of your child’s personal information over the phone, make sure you are alone. 27% of the victims of child identity theft personally know the person who committed the crime, so don’t even share it in front of people you may “trust.”
- Know internet safety yourself and teach it to your children.
- Shred all paper documents with any personal information on them before throwing them away.
How will I know if my child is a victim?
- If you get mail from creditors, the IRS, banks, or an explanition of benefits from your medical insurer for procedures your child did not go through, red flags should be up and you should check your child’s credit report. These letters might be regarding income taxes on a job your child doesn’t have, someone else claiming your child on a tax return, a home your child doesn’t own, or a credit card balance on a card they’re obviously too young to have obtained.
- Experian also has this program called ChildSecure(SM) or FamilySecure(SM). You pay a monthly fee to monitor your child’s social security number and credit report (or, hopefully, lack thereof.) I’ve seen it offered by banks and Experian itself for anywhere from $6.95/month to $19.95/month. That’s about $240/year. I don’t know if it’s worth it; $240/year for something your child may never need. I imagine retrospectively people wish they had used something like it, though.
What to do if your child is a victim:
- Go to your police department (or the local department where the identity theft originated) and file a report.
- Alert each Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion that your child is a victim. Ask them to place an initial fraud alert or a freeze on your child’s file. The fraud alert will force creditors to verify identity before issuing credit to anyone purporting to be your child. It lasts for 90 days after which you can request a new one. A freeze makes it incredibly hard for anyone to use your child’s social security number at all. These freezes can last until age 18, though the limits on how long they can last are set by each state. Your state may also require a fee to freeze the credit report. Until your child is 18, only you will be able to unfreeze the report. Once they’re 18, they will have the authority to do so. (You can’t freeze a child’s credit report if they don’t have one, so unfortunately, this step can only be done after something bad happens.)
- File a report with the FTC either online or over the phone.
- Contact every business/creditor/wherever the identity was stolen and used to make them aware of the situation (including the IRS or medical institution if applicable.) You can find all of this information by getting your child’s credit report for free. The kind of free that doesn’t come with asterisks or ask for credit card numbers.
*All statistics are from 2012 and pulled from ITAC*