Identity theft is on the rise. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 5.88 million fraud reports, and we’ve seen a concerning trend from the uptick: children are often the victims of identity theft and fraud. In fact, nearly 1 million children and their families are affected by identity crimes each year. As a partner in security, we’re here to help explain why and how this happens, as well as what to do to prevent it.
What is Child Identity Fraud?
Child identity fraud happens when identity thieves obtain your child’s personal information—like a Social Security Number (SSN)—and use it to open credit accounts, take out loans, set up accounts for utility services and more. And while it may not seem all that different from identity fraud affecting adults, the damage from child identity theft can be catastrophic.
A thief won’t think twice about ruining your child’s credit history, and the debts can go unpaid for years before they’re detected. Bad actors can quickly destroy your child’s credit report—and financial future—even before the child is old enough to understand the concept of money.
Common signs of child identity fraud
- Collection calls. Getting calls about money owed by your child? Receiving bills in this child’s name? It’s often a sign that your child’s information has been used to make fraudulent purchases.
- Denial of benefits. When children are denied government benefits like healthcare or nutritional assistance—or unable to be claimed as a dependent on taxes—it’s possible that someone else is using their personal information for these purposes.
- IRS notices. If an IRS notice claims that your child owes unpaid taxes, or that the child’s Social Security Number has been used on a tax return, it’s likely a sign of child identity theft.
- Unpaid fine notices. Is your teenager having problems at the DMV when applying for a driver’s license? If your teen receives notices about any unpaid fines, it may be a sign of identity theft.
Ways to prevent child identity theft
If your child seems to be the victim of identity theft, report the incident to the FTC, credit bureaus and any relevant companies before doing anything else. After that, there are several ways to take additional action to prevent identity theft from impacting your child’s future any further:
- Check your child’s credit report. Many parents like to help build their child’s credit history early. They can do this by adding their child as an authorized user to their credit accounts. If you’ve done this, your child should have a credit report, and it may be possible to uncover fraud by examining it. If your child has a credit report and hasn’t been added as an authorized user, it’s often a sign of fraud. Contact each of the major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—individually to see if they have credit reports on file.
- Place a security freeze on their credit. If your child is a victim of identity theft, consider placing a special credit freeze—known as a Protected Consumer Freeze—on the credit report. A freeze keeps lenders from accessing the credit report, which prevents anyone from opening new accounts or lines of credit in your child’s name. Credit freezes can be started even if your child doesn’t have a credit report yet. Just provide a written request to the credit bureaus to start or stop the freeze.
- Secure all important documents. Keep track of and secure any documents that contain your child’s personally identifiable information. Think of all the places where sensitive information is stored, and make sure any forms or papers are kept in a safe place. When these documents are ready to be disposed, it’s also important to shred them. While your child should have limited data online, it’s smart to search for and clear out any identifying information where possible.
- Consider credit monitoring tools. Identity theft protection isn’t just for adults. Cutting-edge software can quickly recognize signs of identity theft—even on your child’s credit report—and provide 24/7 monitoring for the entire family’s peace of mind.
Educate Kids on Information Safety
Your child’s personal information is valuable. It’s important to protect it when they’re young, and to teach them how to safeguard it as they get older. Bad actors could target them at any time, so it’s crucial to be prepared for it.
Reach out to Navy Federal Credit Union today to learn more about protecting your child from identity theft. See how our built-in security features like 2-step verification can help protect the financial future of your entire family.
- Make sure your child’s personal information—especially sensitive data like a Social Security Number—is stored in a secure location. Teach older kids about the importance of protecting identifying information.
- Check to see if your child has a credit report. If one is found, request it from the three major credit bureaus and survey it for anything that looks out of the ordinary. Report fraud to the FTC and each of the bureaus separately.
- Consider 24/7 credit monitoring for children—and the entire family—to protect financial futures. Sign up for instant alerts that highlight any suspicious activity that could affect credit.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.