Picture this: One day; you’re going through your mail, and also you discover a summons for jury responsibility. The humorous factor is that it’s not for you; it’s for your child, who’s only 8 years old. It has to be some form of a bureaucratic screw-up, so you toss it within the bin. Shrugging this case off is a superbly pure response, however, it’s additionally an enormous mistake. When a child receives a jury summons or some other mail meant for an adult, it almost indicates the child suffers from identity theft.
Child identity theft is a significant problem within the United States. According to a 2021 research by Javelin Strategy & Research, greater than 1 million children had been victims of identity theft in 2020. Shockingly, greater than half of them had been victimized by somebody they knew personally, such as a guardian, relative, or instructor.
If considering having your identity stolen is frightening, it’s doubly scary to think about it taking place with your kids. Here’s what you want to learn about how to defend them.
The Problem of Child Identity Theft
Children are significantly interesting targets for identity thieves as a result of they don’t usually use credit scores. Thus, a thief who steals a child’s identity can usually use it years earlier than anybody discovers the theft.
Characteristics of Child Identity Theft
Child identity theft differs in some ways from adult identity theft. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, most circumstances of identity theft contain fraudulently utilizing another person’s bank card, checking account, or different current accounts. Only 4% of circumstances contain “new account fraud,” or opening up a new account with another person’s info.
For children, nevertheless, new account fraud is the most typical kind of identity theft, in accordance with a 2021 research at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). The CMU research checked out over 40,000 children and located that 10% of them had a Social Security Number (SSN) that another person was utilizing illegally. That’s roughly 51 occasions the rate of latest account fraud for adults.
Thieves who steal a child’s SSN or different private info can use it to:
- Open financial institution or bank card accounts
- Apply for loans
- Apply for a job
- Get a driver’s license
- Set up utilities
- Rent a residence
- Buy a home or automobile
- Apply for presidency advantages
- Receive medical care
Thieves may even mix a child’s SSN with a pretend identity and birthdate to create a completely new identity. This crime referred to as “synthetic identity theft,” is especially hard to detect. The victims usually don’t discover the crime till they flip 18 and take a look to apply for their first credit account, solely to be taught their SSN is already connected to a credit report in another person’s name.
Who Commits Child Identity Theft
According to the CMU research, there are three foremost groups concerned with child identity theft:
- Organized Cyber Criminals. Criminals steal kids’ SSNs for one easy motive: to get cash. They use a child’s SSN to create a pretend identification and build a credit history from scratch. Once they’ve established a good credit score, they reap the benefits of it to go on a borrowing binge, racking up large quantities of debt. Then they merely discard the pretend identity, leaving the sufferer with a severely broken credit standing.
- Illegal Immigrants. Undocumented immigrants usually use stolen SSNs as a unique form of artificial identity theft. By pairing a child’s SSN with their own identity and date of birth, they will make themselves seem to be U.S. residents. They can then use their new ID to apply for jobs and file tax returns.
- Friends and Family. Sometimes, parents with poor credit rankings attempt to get around them by profiting from their kids’ clear credit histories. On occasion, they could arrange utility payments of their child’s identity as an alternative of their very own. In different circumstances, pals and acquaintances, such as nannies, who’ve entry to a child’s private data make use of the child’s identity for a similar motive. Often they don’t imply to hurt the child, however their actions saddle these kids with a false credit history and typically a poor credit standing as effectively.
Warning Signs of Child Identity Theft
Child identity theft is usually exhausting to detect since children don’t normally have accounts of their names you could monitor for suspicious exercises. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and different identity theft consultants have recognized a number of red flags that may alert parents that somebody is misusing their child’s private info.
These warning indicators include:
- Having your child turned down for presidency advantages, such as Medicaid, because these advantages are already being paid out to an account along with your child’s SSN
- Receiving a discovery from the IRS that your child owes revenue taxes
- Receiving a bank card invoice in your child’s identify
- Getting a call from a debt collector about a few debts your child supposedly owes
- Being notified that your child has unpaid visitors or parking tickets
- Having your child summoned for jury responsibility
Receiving presents for pre-approved bank cards addressed to your child in a particular case. A provide like this isn’t an indication of identity theft as a result of bank card firms typically shipping out these presents to folks totally at random. They might have gotten your child’s identity off a checking account, a school fund or another professional account arrange for their identity. However, in the event you get an entire bunch of those presents directly, that’s an indication that somebody has opened up a credit score file utilizing your child’s info.
When you undergo your everyday mail, maintain a watch out for any suspicious gadgets on this listing. Also, concentrate on any mailings about safety breaches at any firm you do enterprise with that has entry to your child’s info. If you obtain such a discovery, jump into motion immediately to protect your child’s identification.
How to Prevent Child Identity Theft
With child identity theft on the rise, it is smart for parents to take every precaution they will to safeguard their children’s private info. Here are the steps the FTC and different consultants advocate to maintain your kids safe.
1. Check for a Credit Report
If you’re concerned about child identity theft, the first thing to do is find out if your child has a credit report. In idea, a child shouldn’t have a credit file since you solely have one in the event you’ve utilized for credit – one thing children are too younger to do. If a credit report exists in your child’s identity, it’s probably a result of an identity thief having created one.
To verify your child’s credit status, contact each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and ask for a handbook search of your child’s file. The bureaus can verify for information along with your child’s identity and SSN, in addition to information with the SSN only. However, earlier than they do that, they’ll in all probability require several documents to show that you’re the child’s guardian. You might have to present copies of your child’s start certificates and Social Security card, your personal driver’s license or different authorized ID, and proof of address.
If you discover a credit report in your child’s identity, don’t panic. It’s possible you created it yourself accidentally. According to the CMU report, if you choose your children out of pre-approved bank card presents, that opens a credit score file for them. You can’t delete this file, however you’ll be able to freeze it.
2. Protect Your Child’s Personal Information
The most essential means to defend your child from identity theft is to safeguard their private info, particularly their SSN. For instance:
- Don’t Share Your Child’s SSN. If you could have to fill out a form that requests your child’s SSN, don’t automatically fill it in. Many organizations that ask for this info, equivalent to docs’ offices or summer season camps, don’t really want it. Ask the one that gave you the shape if you can leave this area clean, use another type of number for identification, or write solely the final 4 digits of your child’s SSN. If they insist on having the complete SSN, ask them why it’s wanted and what steps they may take to defend it. Don’t fill it in except you’re satisfied with their solutions.
- Keep Documents Locked Up. Find a safe place to retail any documents that contain your child’s private info, equivalent to start certificates or tax returns. File paper documents away in a spot the place guests in your home can’t get at them, equivalent to a safe or a locked file cupboard. Protect digital documents by using strong passwords on all of your private digital gadgets.
- Use a Shredder. If you do not want one of these documents, ensure you shred it earlier than disposing of it. Thieves aren’t above going by your recycling bins to get ahold of non-public info.
- Don’t Carry Sensitive Documents. Don’t routinely carry any doc containing your child’s SSN, equivalent to a passport or Social Security card, in your pockets, purse, or automobile. If you do, anybody who breaks into your automobile or steals your pockets or purse will achieve entry to this useful info.
3. Be Aware of Risks
It’s particularly vital to be on the alert for child identity theft after an occasion that places your child’s info in danger. Such occasions include:
- A Home Break-In. If burglars break into your home, they will steal extra than simply your stereo or jewelry. They might additionally dig by your submitting cupboard and stroll out with documents that have your child’s SSN or different private info – a loss you won’t discover instantly the best way you’ll with a stolen TV. Also, if the thieves take your pc, they will get into any information that isn’t password-protected and discover your child’s info that way.
- Losing Your Wallet. If your wallet or purse is lost or stolen, anybody who finds it might make use of any private documents you had been carrying. This might put your child’s private info in danger, in addition to your personal.
- A Data Breach. Your child’s school, physician’s office, and different companies you take care of usually can all have your child’s private info on file. If you get a discover from any of those locations a few knowledge breaches, take it severely.
4. Talk to Your Children
There are another place identity thieves can get your children’s private info: from your kids themselves. Children who don’t know about the dangers of identity theft might simply let useful info slip to people they don’t know effectively. This hazard is especially excessive for kids who’re victims of bullying. There’s a powerful hyperlink between fraud and bullying, maybe as a result children who really feel susceptible at school could also be extra possible to share private particulars online in a place it feels safe.
Start educating your children concerning the significance of defending their private info as quickly as they’re sufficiently old to understand. Here are some things to teach them:
- Not to Give Information to Strangers. Educate your kids not to give their full identity, address, or telephone quantity to anybody they don’t know. This contains everybody from the website that requires your identity and telephone quantity earlier than it provides you entry to a superior recreation to the good woman from the bank card firm who calls to “verify” the names of everybody in the home.
- Not to Overshare Online. Even if kids wouldn’t give their identity and address to a stranger on the road, they could not perceive that sharing this data on social media makes it straightforward for strangers to discover. Tell them to confine their private particulars to a personal profile open solely to folks they believe. If they need to maintain a weblog or put up movies on YouTube, then encourage them to use an Internet code identity as an alternative to their actual identity. Teaching your kids this lesson can defend them not simply from identity theft, but also from extra harmful crimes, like kidnapping or sexual assault by Internet predators.
- How to Keep Their SSN Secret. If your children know their own SSNs, be sure that additionally, they know the significance of maintaining the privacy, even from folks they know. Teach all of them the identical rules for safeguarding their SSN that you just use yourself: attempt to keep away from entering it on kids, don’t carry delicate documents, and shred documents earlier than tossing them within the bin. Also, warn them in opposition to getting into their SSN on any website, even one that claims to be safe.
What to Do If Your Child Is a Victim of identity theft
It’s exhausting sufficient cope with the aftermath if you’re a victim of identity theft. It’s much more painful when the sufferer is your child. And sadly, in accordance with CNBC, the truth that the sufferer is a minor doesn’t make it any simpler to unravel the net of fraud and lies. Simply saying that the one that allegedly ran up that five-figure bank card invoice is 8 years old isn’t sufficient to show your child wasn’t accountable. You have to go through the prolonged technique of contacting collectors and offering proof of identification simply as you’ll with a grownup sufferer.
The fact that so many victims of child identity theft know the perpetrator provides one more wrinkle. Relatives who steal a child’s identity typically use the child’s precise home address and telephone quantity when making use of accounts, making it more durable to show they’re not legit. Also, victims and their parents typically hesitate to convey the complete power of the legislation down on somebody they know.
Here are the essential steps for responding to child identity theft:
1. Get Your Child’s Credit Report
Contact the three credit bureaus, as outlined above, to see in case your child has a credit report. If there’s one, get a duplicate of the report and use it to discover which firms have to pretend accounts in your child’s identity.
2. Report the Crime
Go to IdentityTheft.gov or call 877-ID-THEFT to file an Identity Theft Report. This doc will enable you when coping with collectors. If somebody has filed taxes utilizing your child’s SSN, report that crime individually utilizing the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039).
3. Contact Companies
Contact the businesses which have accounts in your child’s identify. Tell every firm the account is pretend and the supposed account holder is a minor who can’t enter right into an authorized contract. Ask them to shut the account and ship you a letter confirming that your child isn’t responsible for any of the fees. Then ship the corporate a follow-up letter, together with copies of your child’s start certificates and the Identity Theft Report. Take notes to maintain observe of which corporations you’ve contacted and when.
4. Clean Up Their Credit Report
When you obtain your child’s credit report, it ought to include directions for eradicating fraudulent accounts. Each credit bureau has its personal procedures for doing this, so comply with the directions you obtain.
5. Freeze Your Child’s Credit
After you’ve eliminated all of the pretend accounts from your child’s credit score report, arrange a credit score freeze to be sure that the thieves can’t open any new ones. Under federal legislation, parents can freeze the credit report of any child below age 16 free of charge. Teenagers 16 or 17 years old can freeze their very own credit score.
Being a guardian is a tough job. On the one hand, you need to handle your kids and defend them from all the things that would harm them. On the other hand, you additionally need to educate them to stand on their very own and handle themselves.
When you defend your kids from identity theft, you’re doing each of these issues directly. By safeguarding their private info whereas they’re younger, you are sure that nobody can harm their credit standing earlier than they’re even sufficiently old to want it. At the identical time, by instructing them concerning the significance of online safety and privateness, you’re serving to them develop good habits to handle themselves once they attain adulthood.