Children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they have clean credit histories that make them attractive targets for fraudsters. This exploitation can significantly impact their future financial well-being, creating obstacles in accessing credit, student loans, or even housing.
In This Article
Understanding child identity theft
Child identity theft occurs when someone misuses a child’s personal information, like their Social Security number or date of birth, for fraudulent activities. These can include:
- Opening credit accounts
- Applying for government benefits
- Filing tax returns in a child’s name
One concerning form of child identity theft is “synthetic identity theft.” Here, fraudsters combine real and fake information to create a new, blended identity. A child’s legitimate Social Security number might be paired with a fictitious name and address.
Because children typically don’t have existing credit reports, their stolen details can go unnoticed for years, allowing criminals ample time to exploit these synthetic identities.
8 tips for preventing child identity theft
Here are eight ways to help protect your child from identity theft.
1. Check for a credit report early
Check if your child has a credit report before they turn 18. A credit report for a minor can be a red flag for identity theft since children typically shouldn’t have one. If a report exists and your child is under 18, it could indicate that someone has stolen their identity.
You can verify whether your child has a credit report by contacting the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Request a manual search using your child’s Social Security number. Be prepared to provide proof of legal guardianship before you can conduct a search.
You could be asked to provide a copy of these documents before you can check a minor’s credit report:
- Your driver’s license
- Proof of address
- Your child’s birth certificate or Social Security card
2. Opt for a credit freeze
A credit freeze restricts access to your child’s credit report. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in their name and damage their credit scores. It’s a proactive measure to safeguard your child’s financial future.
To place a security freeze:
- Contact each credit bureau: Each major bureau—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—requires separate freeze requests.
- Provide identification: You typically need proof of identity, like your child’s Social Security number, to place a freeze.
- Follow bureau-specific instructions: Each bureau has specific instructions for how to freeze your credit. Follow these steps with each of the three credit bureaus.
You can lift a credit freeze at any time, but it can provide peace of mind while it’s active.
3. Invest in credit monitoring products
Credit monitoring products offer an extra layer of protection against child identity theft. They actively monitor credit reports for any unusual activity or new credit inquiries, alerting you to potential fraud.
Options include family plans from places like ID Watchdog, which include monitoring for children’s credit alongside adults, as well as child-specific coverage from places like IdentityForce, which is a TransUnion brand. Products tailored specifically for monitoring children’s credit often include features like fraud prevention alerts and credit locks.
4. Keep important documents safe
Children’s documents can be gold mines for identity thieves. Key documents include their Social Security card, birth certificate, medical insurance card, and passport.
You can protect documents by storing them in a locked filing cabinet or safe. If you’re storing digital copies on a computer, make sure they’re in an encrypted password-protected folder. Periodically review stored documents to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.
Along those same lines, try to avoid storing important documents in easily accessible places like bedside drawers or in your purse or wallet. Also, make sure you shred old documents before tossing them.
5. Limit sharing of personal information
Always scrutinize requests for your child’s Social Security number. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Why do you need it?” or “Can you use a different identifier or just the last four digits?”
If sharing your child’s personal information is absolutely necessary, ensure it’s with reputable institutions like their school. Ask about the institution’s data protection measures and who will have access to the information.
It might feel like overkill, but remember that it’s your right to know how your child’s information is being used and protected. Prioritize their safety by minimizing data exposure whenever possible.
6. Educate your kids about online privacy
Another way you can help prevent child identity theft is by teaching kids about the significance of online privacy and the risks of oversharing personal details. Explain why they shouldn’t share information like their address, school, or birthdate on social media or with strangers.
If they’ve access to electronics, teach them how to create strong, unique passwords for their devices and accounts. Instilling these habits early helps them navigate the digital world more securely.
7. Dispose of old devices properly
Before disposing of computers or cell phones, erase all personal data to prevent potential identity theft. Start by backing up essential files, then perform a factory reset. This returns the device to its original settings and wipes stored data.
For computers, consider using data-wiping software for an extra layer of protection. You can also physically destroy old hard drives or take them to a professional that offers data destruction services.
8. Watch out for red flags
Child identity theft often gives off early warning signals. Receiving unanticipated bills, letters from the IRS regarding unpaid taxes, or credit denials are all signs of unauthorized use.
If you get any documents in the mail that might relate to your child’s credit history or financial status, review them carefully and take them seriously.
What to do if your child’s identity is stolen
Discovering that your child’s identity has been misused can be alarming, but taking quick action can help mitigate potential damages. Follow these three steps:
- Report and close fraudulent accounts. Immediately contact companies where unauthorized accounts were opened using your child’s details. Inform the company’s fraud department about the situation and request account closures. Ask for written confirmation that your child isn’t responsible for these accounts.
- Freeze your child’s credit report. To prevent further unauthorized account openings, initiate a security freeze on your child’s credit report. This restricts access to the report, making identity theft harder for perpetrators.
- Alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Go to IdentityTheft.gov to report child identity theft to the FTC. This platform has tailored recovery plans that can guide you through any additional steps you should to take for fraud prevention.
Check for child identify theft by age 16
When your child turns 16, the FTC recommends checking if your child has a credit report. This can help you spot any potential signs of identity theft that could hinder them from renting an apartment or taking out a loan in the future.
You can significantly reduce the risk of identity fraud by being proactive. From making credit inquiries to educating your kids about digital safety, early detection is key to preventing long-term financial damage. It can also open the doors for the children in your life to have a smoother financial journey in their adult years.
Written by Cassidy Horton | Edited by Rose Wheeler
Cassidy Horton is a finance writer who’s passionate about helping people find financial freedom. With an MBA and a bachelor’s in public relations, her work has been published over a thousand times online by finance brands like Forbes Advisor, The Balance, PayPal, and more. Cassidy is also the founder of Money Hungry Freelancers, a platform that helps freelancers ditch their financial stress.