Identity theft victims don’t necessarily have to be adults. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab, children are 51 times more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults. Children and teenagers generally lack financial experience. This likely means they have clean credit, basically a blank slate, which makes them ideal targets for identity thieves. Furthermore, since they typically do not start applying for credit until at least early adulthood, a theft is more likely to go undetected for many years, which could create serious consequences.
By hijacking your child’s social security number, thieves can easily open up lines of credit. Since most of these cases go undiscovered for years, by the time they are ready to open credit lines, your child could have sizable debts that could be impossible to pay off.
To minimize the risk of your child’s identity becoming compromised, consider the following:
Contact each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Transunion). In an effort to reduce the occurrences of child identity theft, 19 states including Texas, now require the credit reporting agencies to allow a parent or guardian to freeze the credit files of their minor children.
Find out how your child’s school will collect, use, store and dispose of information. Schools are often targeted by identity thieves, as they maintain voluminous amounts of student data, so it’s important to know details on how the information will be used. Also find out which other parties will have access to your child’s personally identifiable information, including programs that are sponsored by the school. Opt out if necessary.
Keep anti-virus software updated. Some identity thieves create viruses designed to search computers for documents containing your child's Social Security number. Never store important and/or personally identifiable information or passwords on your computer.
Shred personal documents. These are documents that include your child's personal information. Do this before you throw them out, and delete computer files that you no longer need. The Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas conducts five annual shredding events that are free to the community. Go to bbb.org for more information.
Check your child’s credit report on or around their 16th birthday. This gives you enough time to fix errors before your child tries to obtain financial aid for college, a car loan or rent an apartment.
If your child begins receiving any of the following, he or she may be a victim of identity theft:
• Credit card or loan applications.
• Phone calls or letters from collection agencies.
• Notices from the IRS regarding unpaid taxes or the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return.
If you believe your child has been a victim of identity theft, contact each of the three credit bureaus and check for errors. If your child has been victimized, place a fraud alert on their account and consider requesting a credit freeze.
For more information about how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or go to BBB Scam Tracker.