You know your kids are separate individuals—mostly because they rarely miss an opportunity to tell you that they want to do things themselves or to ask you to leave them alone. At least, until they can’t find something they need for school right as you’re all walking out the door!
So while you get that they have their own unique identities, have you ever considered what might happen if that identity was stolen? Not like copied by another child, but by bad guys who see a child’s identity as attractive for obvious reasons: it’s a clean slate, and kids aren’t checking in on CreditKarma regularly. So, they think no one would be the wiser if someone decided to build a financial identity in their name while your kid is building block towers in pre-K.
There are a few things you can do to protect your child’s identity:
- Know what identity theft looks like. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) there are specific red flags you can watch for such as receiving credit card offers in your child’s name, getting an IRS notice that your child’s social security number (SSN)and/or name is listed on another tax return, or being denied government assistance and benefits either because income or benefits are already assigned to their SSN. You or your child may also receive collection calls for things you didn’t sign up for or purchase.
- Safeguard your child’s social security number and information. This is not just about digital presence. Make sure you’re aware of every person who has access to this information—including family members. Some theft exists because an ex-spouse, aunt or other individual is undergoing financial stress and decides to use your child’s identity as a way to start over. Also, be sure to ask “why” at every school, doctor and other appointment where paperwork asks for a SSN. You’ll find that it’s less required than you think! Under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) parents can decide what information gets shared and with whom (though schools may disclose certain things without consent.) Become informed about your rights.
- Limit opportunities for identity theft. While you can’t always prevent what may happen, you can take steps to make it less likely that your child will be a target. Don’t ever give a SSN or other identifying information aloud. Keep your family’s social security cards and any other cards bearing that number (such as an insurance card) safe at home. If you want your insurance card with you at all times, make a copy and black out the last 4 digits of the SSN. Bring the real deal only when you have an appointment where it is needed.
- Talk to your kids about identity theft. As they get older, you’ll want to have conversations about safe internet use anyway. Make sure they know that identity theft is possible and to never give out any personal information over email, chat, messenger or any other way. If they are asked for it, even from someone that seems trustworthy—like a coach or family member—they should let you see the message and respond together. If you’re divorced, it may be a good idea to talk about what might happen if they see any mail in their name at their other parent’s home. Let your child know they can tell you anything, even if it seems like nothing.
In case your child’s identity is stolen, here is what you can do: First, know that you can repair the damage. Ask all three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) to file a child-identity inquiry. If your child indeed has a credit history, you will need to prove your child is a minor and then write a letter asking each agency to remove the report. Keep up with this process, which might take a while, to make sure it gets completed.
A fraud alert can help you keep an eye on anyone trying to use your child’s information going forward. While there is also an option to place a “freeze” on your child’s credit report, agencies aren’t always the most helpful about it and only 19 states require these agencies to open an account for your child (in order to freeze their credit) if their identities haven’t already been compromised. It could be worth it, though, in preventing more harm in the short term. You can lift the freeze when your child is grown and ready to build a credit history. And it should go without saying, but call the police and alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) so the bad guys can get caught!