Imagine learning that a thief has stolen your child’s identity and used it to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, a car loan – even a mortgage. You can do a lot to protect your kids’ personal information – and to minimize the damage that child identity theft can cause.
Several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:
- get bills or notices for products or services you didn’t receive, including medical care
- be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
- get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay taxes on income or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
Check for a Credit Report
If you suspect that your child’s information may be at risk, check whether your child has a credit report by contacting each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask them to search using your child’s name and Social Security number; if nothing turns up, ask for a so-called manual search using just your child’s Social Security number.
If there is a credit report for your child, follow up with each credit reporting company. You’ll need to provide proof that your child is a minor, and that you are the parent or legal guardian. Ask each company to remove all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.
Repair the Damage
If you know that your child’s identity is being misused, call one of the credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert on your child’s credit report:
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
That company will contact the others, and shortly, all three will have placed fraud alerts on any reports associated with your child’s name or Social Security number. These alerts are in force for 90 days.
Next, file a report with the FTC. Do it at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-438-4338. If the fraud relates to medical services or taxes, you might need to file a police report, too. Finally, contact every company where your child’s information was misused. Ask each to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.
Prevention = Protection
You can take some steps to protect your child’s identity from misuse:
- Keep all documents that show your child’s personal information locked up.
- Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask to use another identifier, or at the very least, the last four digits of the Social Security number.
- Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
- Be pro-active in the face of certain personal circumstances, say an adult in financial hot water who might “adopt” a child’s identity to start over; a lost wallet or stolen purse that had your child’s Social Security card; a break-in at your home; or a notice that your child’s information was compromised in a data breach.
When Your Child Turns 16
It’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one – and it has errors due to fraud or misuse – you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, or a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.