Identity theft is a major problem in the United States, with up to 9 million people losing their identities to theft on an annual basis, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Adults aren’t the only target though. In fact, the Washington Post reports that as many as 1 in 50 kids — or 1.25 million — are impacted by identity theft every year.
This is a staggering number, and one that continues to grow each year. People are looking for ways to protect themselves and their loved ones, but they may not realize that children are at risk as well. Many families never realize their child’s identity was stolen—and by the time they do, it’s too late.
Below, we discuss how to prevent child identity theft, what to do if your child’s ID is stolen, and why it’s so important that parents take action.
What Is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft occurs when a child’s identifying information is stolen and used without their knowledge. This can include anything from a child’s name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, and even their mother’s maiden name.
This is most often done by criminals who want to open bank accounts, obtain lines of credit, or even apply for private health insurance or government benefits. Children are especially vulnerable to this type of theft because they usually aren’t required to prove their identity when opening new accounts and their families rarely check their credit reports.
How Does Child Identity Theft Happen?
The most common way children become victims of ID theft is through what’s called “family-based identity theft,” where a family member steals their child’s social security number to get a credit card or loan. Or, they may use a child’s ID to get health insurance or government benefits illegally, such as Medicaid or food stamps.
Identity theft can be financially devastating for children who are unwitting victims of this crime. Using a child’s personal information to open fraudulent accounts, borrow money, or commit other crimes can cause them to rack up massive debts they have no control over. With their credit history affected, it can also make it difficult for them to qualify for things like car loans, mortgages, or even jobs later in life.
How Can Child Identity Theft Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent child identity theft is to take proactive steps that make it difficult for someone to use your child’s ID for fraudulent purposes. Follow these simple but effective tips to keep your child safer from the risk of identity theft:
- Keep your child’s identifying information secure. Only give their full name, birthday, social security number, and other key identifying data to appropriate parties like educational or healthcare institutions.
- Check your child’s credit history at least annually. Check your child’s credit report regularly — as well as your own — to look for any accounts or loans that aren’t yours. You can do this by ordering a copy of your credit reports from all three of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, for free once a year.
- Teach your child to practice good online safety habits. Make sure your child knows how to keep their information secure on the web and what to do or not to do in certain situations where they may be at risk of having their identity stolen.
- Close accounts immediately. If you discover that someone has opened an account in your child’s name, contact the financial institution immediately and close the account.
- Clean up your child’s credit report. You should also check for errors on your credit reports and dispute them immediately if necessary.
Steps to Take After Your Child’s Identity Is Stolen
If your child’s identity was stolen, you should take the following steps as soon as possible:
- File a police report. A formal police report establishes the time and date you realized your child was a victim of theft and puts important details on official record.
- Place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. A fraud alert will make it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name, because creditors and bill collectors will check with you before opening an account or sending bills to the address. This may not completely prevent thieves from using your child’s identity, but it can help reduce the damage.
- File a complaint with the FTC. You should also file a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, who will then investigate the incident to determine what happened.
How a Consumer Protection Attorney Can Help
Don’t wait to start working with an experienced consumer protection attorney after your child’s identity was stolen. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we can provide you with zealous, thorough legal representation to help you reverse damage done to your child’s credit. Call today for a consultation at (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.