6 steps to prevent child identity theft
For National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we want to bring your attention to the risk of child identity theft, something that often goes unnoticed because of their age and lack of credit use.
1. Know the warning signs
The signs that a young one may be a victim of child identity theft are the same as for an adult. Be aware (and look into) any of the following in your child’s name:
- Credit card offers in your child’s name, by mail or email
- Your child receives invoices, unpaid bills, or collections notices and/or calls
- The IRS notifies you that your child’s SSN is stated as belonging to someone else’s dependent
- You’re denied child-related government benefits because you seem to be getting those benefits already
- Your child is denied a student loan for bad credit.
2. Check your child’s credit report
Ideally, your child will have no credit report until they reach adulthood. That is why periodic credit checks are a great tool to detect, stop, and prevent child identity theft. In the United States, you may request free credit reports for your young one(s) from all three major credit bureaus. Note that this information refers to the process in the United States specifically. If you live in another country, please consult with your national credit bureaus.
You will need to identify yourself properly and confirm your address, plus provide the following:
- Legal name
- Birth date
- A copy of the child’s birth certificate
- A copy of the child’s Social Security card.
If they are under the age of 13, you will need to request the credit report directly from the credit bureau (it will still be free if you request it once a year). Here is the contact information for the three major bureaus:
- Equifax: 888-298-0045
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 800-916-8800.
If your child is over the age of 13, you will be able to request their report via the Annual Credit Report page.
3. Safeguard your child’s information and Social Security Number
Camps, local events and even schools may ask for your child’s social security number and other information, even if they don’t need it. Before providing personal identifying information on your child, take the time to learn why they need it, how they will use it, and how they will protect that information. If you aren’t comfortable with the answer, request to provide other identifiers or just the last 4 digits of your kid’s SSN.
4. Freeze your child’s credit
The best way to keep your child’s identity protected is to set a credit freeze on their credit reports. The freeze is free, and just like with requesting a free credit report, there is information you will need to provide. We suggest that you read and follow NerdWallet’s article on the topic. It even includes instructions on how to place the freeze with each different credit bureau.
5. Protect your child’s identity at home
Make sure that you always keep the following documents under lock:
- Your child’s personal identity documents (passport, birth certificate, social security card)
- Any medical reports and bills with their information on them
- School records
- Any documents containing personal identifying information about them.
6. The same applies to your child’s identity online
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: Online safety is the most important factor in protecting children from identity theft. That is because online activity is the source of 87% of identity theft cases. According to a recent study, in 2017 over a million children in the United States were victims of child identity theft. And the number to cases is expected to remain high in the near future.
Generation Z is the first generation that has been online since birth. They do not know a world without internet or smartphones. Because of this, it is important to educate them on the topics of privacy online and personal cybersecurity.
STOP.THINK.CONNECT has published a list of tips on how to talk to children about their security online as well as tips for parents of gamers of all ages. Both of them are excellent resources to help you impart a solid base of personal awareness and protection when online.
On social media, you can prevent child identity theft by helping them establish well-informed privacy settings on those social sites and apps by:
- Making their profile pages private
- Restricting who can see their posts
- Limiting commenting access to close friends or followers
- Limiting message requests to approved followers only
- Disabling location sharing on any social apps.