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From a thief’s perspective, a child’s credit is a blank slate, making it an appealing target for committing identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that there were 12,668 credit fraud complaints made by those 19 and younger in 2014–up about 20 percent from 2012. Unfortunately, you may not know something is amiss until warning signs appear. For example, you or your child:
- are turned down for government benefits because they’re already being paid on another account using your child’s Social Security Number
- are notified by the IRS that your child hasn’t paid income taxes or that your child’s Social Security Number was used on another tax return
- receive notifications from collection agencies or bills for products or services you didn’t receive
- receive credit card offers in your child’s name
Protect Your Child
There’s no foolproof way to protect your child’s personal information from being used fraudulently, but you can take measures to make it more difficult:
- Keep your child’s personal information in a safe place–don’t carry his or her Social Security card in your wallet, and don’t let your child carry it, either.
- Only share your child’s Social Security info with organizations you trust–for example, his or her school.
- In instances where you’re unsure of how your child’s info will be used, ask why supplying their Social Security Number is necessary and how this information is protected. Request to use a different identification method, if possible, or only the last four digits.
- Ask your child’s school about policies relating to directory information. You may elect to opt out of student directories, which can provide names, addresses, birth dates, contact info and photos of students.
- Monitor all mail and look for suspicious credit card offers in your child’s name.
- Keep an eye on your child’s online activity and stress the importance of not sharing personal information. Also, educate your child on what to look for in an email “phishing scam” and inform them that these emails should be deleted.
- Shred all documents containing personal information before throwing them in the trash.
Minimizing Identity Theft Damage
If you’ve noticed any of the warning signs listed above, follow these steps:
- Request a manual search of your child’s credit records from the three credit-reporting bureaus: Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®.
- If you discover your child’s credit has been misused, notify the credit agencies, explaining that your child is a minor. Ask each agency to remove all accounts, inquiries and any collection notices linked to your child. You may also request that a credit freeze and fraud alert be put on your child’s report. Keep records of all your correspondence with the credit-reporting agencies.
- Contact each business where an account was opened or services rendered. Request that the accounts be closed and flagged as a case of identity theft.
- File a fraud report with the FTC. You may need to contact your local police department to file a report with them, as well.
Even if your child doesn’t appear to be the victim of identity theft, it’s a good idea to check his or her credit as he or she nears the age of 16. This will leave plenty of time to correct errors before your child begins searching for a job, applying for student loans or submitting applications for an apartment.
Navy Federal Credit Union offers discounts on credit-monitoring products that will alert you of suspicious activity and help restore identity in the event of theft.