Child identity theft is the act of stealing a minor’s personal information to conduct fraudulent activities, such as falsely establish lines of credit, apply for a job, get a driver’s license or file a tax return.
In the last few years, incidences of child identity theft have grown at an alarming rate, and it has been reported that as many as 500,000 children become victims of identity theft each year. Identity thieves prey on the personal information of children by illegally obtaining their names and Social Security numbers to establish lines of credit.
In many respects, children are easy targets for identity thieves. Kids have unblemished credit files and typically do not discover that their identity has been stolen until many years after the theft. Children are generally issued Social Security numbers early in life, often at birth.
There are a number of places where children’s personal information, including Social Security numbers, may be vulnerable. Realize that the following places typically request detailed personal information.
- Hospitals and physicians’ offices, through patient records.
- Schools, through student records.
- Daycare centers, through enrollment records.
- Libraries, through member records.
- Sports team organizations, through athlete applications.
- Online social networks, through personal pages or via e-mails as thieves coax information from teens.
Identity thieves also routinely prey on personal information like birth records and pre-approved credit card offers, which may be mistakenly sent to minors and then discarded by families.
One of the most frightening aspects of identity theft is that victims and their families have little way of knowing the crime is occurring. For children and teens, this lack of awareness can be even more destructive. In most cases, it’s not until a child turns 18 and attempts to establish his or her own credit— likely while applying for a credit card— that he or she discovers the fraudulent activity. By this time, the child’s credit history can be significantly tarnished, making the process of eradicating any false activity difficult.
Because most parents do not consider that their child has a credit report, or the need to check a child’s report, the crime of identity theft and resulting damage can continue for years. In 2007, an Experian-Gallup survey polled 3,029 adults ages 18 and older on the topic of child identity theft. The results showed that many consumers are unaware of the dangers of child identity theft. Here are some statistics the survey revealed:
- 68 percent of respondents knew “only a little” to “nothing at all” about child identity theft.
- 11 percent knew “a great deal” about child identity theft.
- 5 percent felt it would be “very difficult” to steal a child’s identity.
- 39 percent of parents with children under the age 18 felt it was “not too likely” that their own child’s identity could be stolen.
- 11 percent of parents thought that it was “very likely” that their own child’s identity could be stolen.
How to Protect Your Children From Identity Theft
- Monitor the type of mail your child receives, including credit card advertisements, unexplained merchandise and collection notices. Whenever possible, sign up for items like magazine subscriptions under your name as the parent, not the child’s name.
- Think twice before giving out your child’s Social Security number. Providing a child’s Social Security number is voluntary, even when directly requested. When signing children up for programs such as daycare or sports camp or when filling out medical forms at a doctor’s office, parents do not need to provide Social Security numbers. If someone insists the need for a child’s Social Security number, parents should ask why the number is needed, how the number will be used, what law requires parents to provide a Social Security number and what the consequences are if parents refuse.
- Monitor the child’s online activity, particularly if he or she frequents social networking sites and/or chat rooms and purchases items online.
- Educate children about the importance of keeping personal information, such as last names, addresses and phone numbers, private when sharing information online.
- Inform children about unsolicited e-mail scams like “phishing” e-mails that ask for personal information. Be certain that your child knows not to respond or provide personal information, and deletes fraudulent e-mails of this sort.
- Don’t allow children to carry their Social Security cards in their wallets or backpacks. Instead, retain ownership of these cards and keep them in a secure location, such as a deposit box or safe.
- Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring product for the entire family. Family SecureSM (www.familysecure.com) from Experian checks for credit activity for both parents and their children and alerts parents if any new credit activity is found. The product also features an industry-leading $2 million guarantee, which reimburses members for certain expenses should they become victims of identity theft.