Safeguarding Children from Identity Theft
It’s hard to believe that crooks would stoop so low as to use a child’s Social Security number to open a bank account or apply for government benefits. But more and more families and their children are being victimized by this disturbing crime.
Child identity theft typically involves an unknown perpetrator who has either stolen or purchased a child’s Social Security number and/or other personal information. But alarmingly, even family members have turned to this crime when faced with a desperate situation, such as overwhelming debt or loss of a job. A child’s unblemished credit history can open the door to new lines of credit, which in turn can be used to pay off outstanding bills.
In cases where the perpetrators are unknown, there are “red flags” that will indicate this crime has been committed. For instance, an adult or their child may receive a notice from the IRS stating that the child did not pay income taxes or that their Social Security number has been used on a tax return. Or parents may receive bills for products or services that they didn’t request or receive.
Thieves can get their hands on a child’s personal and sensitive information in a variety ways. According to experts, one way is through forms that need to be filled out for school. Often these forms require personal information. It’s important to know how that information is going to be used, stored, and discarded when no longer needed. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask those questions of your schools and other organizations, such as sports clubs, in order to protect your child.
Here are some other steps you can take to safeguard your child’s identity:
- Store your child’s personal and sensitive records, such as birth certificates, Social Security identification cards, and bank account information in a safe place, such as a lockbox/safe deposit box or, for electronic records, in a password-secured computer.
- Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. And be sure to ask why the number is needed and how it will be protected.
- Be aware that there are laws that are intended to protect the privacy of student records, such as the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education. This law also gives parents of school-age children the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties. Similar state and local laws may also exist, and schools themselves may also have strict privacy guidelines in place.
- Shred any documents that contain your child’s personal information before throwing them out.
- Discuss identity theft with your children in terms that they will understand.
- Stress to your children that they should never divulge personal information while online or over the phone (including texting) unless first discussed with you.
- Update virus and malware protection on your computer(s) and be sure you have adequate firewalls in place.
If your child becomes a victim of identity theft, you should immediately contact each of the nation’s credit reporting companies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — and inquire whether they have a credit report on file for your child. If one exists, ask them to put a fraud alert on the report. Also send an e-mail or letter requesting that the companies delete all accounts, inquiries and collection notices associated with the child’s name or personal information.
You should also file a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission, either online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 or by calling 877-438-4338. The website has additional information that is helpful if fraud has occurred.