It has never been more important to learn how to protect the identity of your children. In our constantly-connected era, identity thieves have more tools than ever to steal the identity of children. Every year, approximately 140,000 identity thefts against children are reported in the United States.
How do you protect children from identity theft? Here are the most effective tips and identity theft prevention measures:
Limit The Information Your Child Shares Online
All it takes is one social media post for a child’s identity to be stolen. A simple “Happy 15th birthday!” message on a Facebook wall tells thieves the date and year the child was born. If they already know your child’s Social Security Number, then the identity thieves may be monitoring social security accounts to steal other aspects of the child’s identity.
Talk to your children about responsibly sharing information online. Instead of just telling your kids to remove personal information from their social media accounts, tell them why it’s dangerous to have that information floating around the internet. In most cases, the identity thief is only interested in your child’s Social Security Number. However, it’s always a good idea to control the information floating around online.
Talk To Your Children About Phishing Attacks
Whether you’re a child or an adult, phishing attacks are one of the most common ways in which your identity can be stolen.
Phishing attacks involve tricking the individual into divulging personal information online. The user may receive an email directing them to a URL that looks like their bank’s website, for example, where they are prompted to enter personal information.
In other cases, phishing attacks may appear on social media networks or over mobile devices.
Teach your children about phishing attacks and make sure they know when and when not to enter sensitive information online.
Make Copies of Your Child’s Social Security Number, Birth Certificate, Passport, And Other Identification Pieces
Not all identity theft occurs online. You may be traveling overseas when identification gets stolen. Or, your house may get broken into and robbed. In both of these cases, it becomes difficult to confirm your identity – as strange as that may sound.
Always keep a copy of your Social Security Number, birth certificate, and other identification pieces in a secure location. If your house has a safe, then use it. Or, open a safety deposit box at your local bank. If worst comes to worst, then you’ll still have a backup plan.
Obviously, this tip becomes completely invalid if your leave copies of your Social Security Number in an easy-to-access location. If you don’t plan on keeping your identification copies in a safe or some other secure location, then making copies of your personal data may not be the best idea.
Constantly Check Your Credit History
Every American is entitled to one credit check from each of the three major reporting agencies per year. Every identity theft expert in the country recommends taking advantage of this free check to determine if and when your identity has been stolen.
You can learn more about receiving your free credit history report from http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com, which is an official credit check website mandated to provide free credit checks by federal law. It’s operated jointly by Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, which are the three major credit reporting agencies in the United States.
Other websites may claim to offer free credit reports, but AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website that is required by federal law to back up that promise.
Thieves Can No Longer Steal Your Child’s Identity At The Moment Of Birth
In past years, identity thieves in the United States discovered they could steal the identity of a child before it was even born. How did they do that? These clever thieves analyzed Social Security Numbers and guessed which numbers would be assigned to future births in particular states.
This method of identity theft was particularly successful because thieves were often able to use that identity for decades without the victim’s knowledge. By the time the child turned 16 and applied for their first loan or first job, they realized that their identity had been abused since the day they were born.
This practice continued – amazingly – until 2011. After 2011, the Social Security Administration now generates secure numbers based on random sequences instead of taking birth dates and birth areas into account.
Consider Subscribing Your Family Into An Online Identity Theft Protection Program
With identity theft becoming more common, identity theft protection companies have risen to address demand. Today, some identity theft protection companies offer special packages for families and children.
Identity theft protection companies generally work in the same way: they constantly monitor a database of publically-available records. Every time one of these records is changed, the identity theft protection service checks that change against its database of subscribed users. It then alerts the subscribed user to the change.
In many cases, this database change is something the individual did on his or her own. However, every once in a while, these identity theft protection programs let you catch identity thieves in action and contact law enforcement officials before serious consequences occur.
Identity theft protection programs vary widely in terms of quality and effectiveness. Some programs will only monitor a limited number of rarely-accessed databases, which makes their chances of catching an identity thief slim to none. Other services cost far more than they’re worth. Be sure to read child identity theft protection service reviews before you commit to any company.
Why Would Someone Want To Steal Your Child’s Identity?
Stealing the identity of a child might seem like a stupid idea. Aren’t banks going to notice when a six month old baby or twelve year old kid tries to apply for a loan?
U.S. Social Security Numbers do not necessarily indicate age. Credit issuers cannot verify the age of the application based solely on the Social Security Number. In other words, credit applicants can put any age they want on the credit application.
Making matters worse is the fact that reclaiming your child’s identity after it is stolen might be even more difficult. When a fresh Social Security Number applies for a loan, that individual’s age is officially registered into the Social Security Number’s credit history. That credit history will be referenced on future applications.
In other words, your child can go from being a 2 year old boy to a 42 year old man in the space of one credit application. This will make future credit applications confusing for all parties involved.
Why are identity thieves so interested in your child’s identity? Here are a few things they can do:
- Apply for credit cards and loans
- Commit crimes under another individual’s identity
- Commit fraud or perform other malicious business tasks
- Apply for official state identification, including driver’s licenses
- Access and abuse the child’s identity for 15 to 20 years from the date of birth to the date the child first checks his or her credit
Not all child identity theft is for malicious purposes. Illegal immigrants to the country might use their child’s identity to apply for loans or utilities. In the absence of a legitimate U.S. Social Security Number, these individuals may feel that “stealing” their child’s identity is the best option. However, this is considered fraud and is still illegal.
How Children And Parents May Discover Identity Theft
With 160,000 identity thefts occurring to children across the United States every year, hundreds of people each day discover that their identity has been stolen and abused for many years.
Sometimes, parents discover identity theft before their child has grown too old. In other cases, a young adult buying their first car or home is rejected when applying for a loan.
Here are some of the ways in which child identity theft is often discovered:
- The individual will apply for a job, only to be rejected because of a criminal record
- A teen applies for a driver’s license only to discover that another person has already registered a driver’s license under that SSN; in some cases, the identity thief has even accumulated citations, tickets, and major driving violations
- Collection agencies may call your home or send employees to your house regarding information about accounts that were never registered
- A parent may try to open a college savings account for the child, only to discover that the child’s SSN has already been used to register a savings account
- The individual may be denied certain government benefits, including welfare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), due to previous claims made under that SSN
- The individual may be rejected when opening any new account or line of credit, including telephone or cable services, credit cards, short term loans, mortgages, utilities, etc.
There are plenty of different ways to discover that you or your child has become a victim of identity theft. By following the identity theft protection tips listed above, you can avoid putting your family through this ordeal.
Important Things To Remember About Protecting Your Child From Identity Theft
- Nobody is immune to identity theft, no matter how old or young they may be
- Credit agencies cannot verify your age based on your Social Security Number; if you think your newborn child’s identity cannot be stolen and used to apply for credit cards, then think again
- Identity theft of a child can have permanent effects on someone’s life. By the time the crime is discovered, the identity may have been used and abused for 10 to 15 years, in which case there may be major credit damage and even serious criminal records or charges.
- Prior to 2011, Social Security Numbers were assigned based on a guessable algorithm; many identity thieves took advantage of this flaw and have been using the identities of children since the moment they were born. Since 2011, the Social Security Administration has changed its algorithm to stop taking birth area and state into account, making it virtually impossible to guess upcoming Social Security Numbers. However, parents of children born before 2011 should consider ordering a credit check.
What To Do If Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
If you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, here’s what to do:
Contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to order an immediate credit check for your child. Or, visit AnnualCreditReport.com to apply for a free annual credit report online.
If there appear to be signs of fraudulent activity on your child’s credit record, then you need to ask the reporting agencies to clear your child’s records. At the same time, contact police to report the crime. You’re more likely to get fraudulent activity wiped from your account if you have a valid police report. You’ll also need a copy of your child’s birth certificate for this process.
When talking to reporting agencies, your best defense against identity theft is to claim that the child is a minor and is not legally permitted to enter a contract. In these cases, the reporting agency will generally need a copy of your birth certificate in order to conduct their own investigation.
There are many cases where you’ll want to hire professional legal counsel. This is often done for serious identity theft cases where the thief committed major infractions using your child’s identity. It’s also a good idea to hire an attorney if the credit reporting agencies continuously refuse your requests to clear the record.
Most communities and cities have nonprofit identity theft protection organizations that help families and individuals deal with identity theft. Use these resources whenever they’re available.
One of the most important things to realize about child identity theft is that you’re not the first person to go through this ordeal. As complicated, difficult, and frustrating as the process may seem, there have been millions of other people dealing with the same issues. Follow the process and tips listed above and you’ll be able to protect yourself or your children from child identity theft.