How to Safeguard Against Child Identity Theft
As we get older, we learn to protect our Social Security number from criminals who could use it to steal our identity and run up tremendous debt. But while we focus on ourselves, we often forget the importance of safeguarding our children’s Social Security numbers.
Children are just as susceptible to identity fraud as adults are. Online businesses are constantly mining inactive Social Security numbers, which are usually those belonging to children, and sell them to other people to use to establish credit.
Identity theft can possibly be more devastating for children because we pay less attention to our children’s identity until too much damage has been done. A child could be a victim of identity fraud for 16 years before realizing that someone else has ruined their credit history, setting a tough path for their financial future.
The Credit History of a Child
Each unique Social Security number is linked to a unique credit history but that doesn’t mean everyone has a credit report or credit score. Until a line of credit is opened, a person essentially has no credit history and no way to calculate a credit score.
For most children, their credit history is blank until they apply for a college loan or sign up for a joint credit card with their parents. Once a line of credit is established, a child has a credit report and a credit score. Afterward they learn the significance of their financial information.
According to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site that offers free credit reports, “The credit reporting agencies do not knowingly maintain credit files on minor children.” Parents who have tried to pull a minor’s credit report might find credit reporting agencies won’t release it. That is a sign that these agencies have no information to offer, which means that the child’s credit report is blank.
If you are able to retrieve your child’s credit report, that should alert you that your child could be a victim of identity theft because there had to be an existing credit line for a credit report to appear. Parents who suspect child identity fraud should contact credit reporting agencies directly and report it to law enforcement.
Child Identity Theft Protections
- Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card (or copies) with you, unless needed.
- Teach your children to never give out their Social Security numbers. Typically, children don’t know much about their Social Security numbers until they reach their teenage years.
- When your child is old enough to get a job, make sure the hiring company is legitimate and not a front to collect personal information from unsuspecting teens.
- Look for credit card offers in the mail under your child’s name. Only people with an existing credit line will receive pre-approved credit card offers.
- Parents don’t need to give the child’s Social Security number for medical care. Health care providers ask for it because it is an extra piece of identifiable information for billing and insurance purposes but it is not legally required.
- Try to check your child’s credit report. Parents should expect this credit report request to fail because there should be nothing on your child’s credit report.