Identity Theft: Protecting Your Child Begins At Birth
New dad Trevor Buxton explains how young children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft — and how parents can fight back before it’s too late.
Have you ever received a piece of junk mail addressed to your underage child that you simply discarded? Next time, dig a little deeper into the content. Why? Because a credit card or loan offer can be one warning sign that your child may be a victim of identity theft. Left undetected, your child can be connected to massive fraudulent debt and bad credit before they can even vote.
One in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised, according to the most recent survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group (2012).
“Risk is part of parenting, and I accept that I will be unable to prevent all harm from befalling my child. Luckily, certain threats can be proactively avoided, and one of those threats is identity theft,” said Trevor Buxton, fraud awareness and communications manager with PNC’s Enterprise Fraud Group and father of an eight-month-old son.
One in 40 households with children under age 18 have been impacted by child identity theft
All it takes is a Social Security number, which can be paired with a different name, birth date and address to apply for credit. This is called a synthetic identity. Fraudsters create these synthetic identities and can often go undetected until a child turns 18.
“The primary use of stolen personal information is for financial purposes,” said Buxton. “Using the stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open up credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs.”
- Warning signs your child may be a victim include:
- Notified by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your child’s name.
- Notified that a child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return.
- Receiving collection calls for a minor child
- Receiving bills in child’s name for products or services not ordered or delivered.
- Declined for government benefits because benefits already are being paid to another account using the child’s Social Security number.
Of all Social Security numbers that are stolen, just .2 percent are from adults. Ten percent are stolen from children, with the youngest reported victim just five months old
How to Protect your Child
Buxton advises that parents take simple steps when children are young to help avoid child identity theft. “It’s my duty to ensure that my son has every available advantage and safeguard. Since he does not need to open credit accounts anytime soon, I placed a security freeze on his credit profile to protect his identity,” said Buxton. “The next step is shedding his identity as ‘boy who constantly puts his feet in his mouth.’”
As a parent, you can be proactive in protecting your child from identity theft:
- Never carry your child’s (or your) Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Keep it in a safe place, where it is not at risk of being stolen.
- Pay attention to forms from schools, doctors and others asking for personally identifiable information about your child. Opt out if you can or use only the last four digits of a Social Security number.
- Before discarding, shred all documents that show your child’s personally identifiable information, just as you do for your own documents.
- Most importantly: Request a credit report for your child annually, using the child’s Social Security number for reference. You can request one free copy of their credit report once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. If there is no credit history on record, then typically the child has not fallen prey to identity thieves. If there is a credit history for a minor child, he/she has mostly likely become a victim.
If you suspect your child may be a victim:
- Place a 90-day credit alert on your child's file. This means the agencies will contact you any time someone attempts to acquire credit in your child's name. There is no charge, but it must be renewed every 90 days. Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies who will then contact the other two.
- Place a security freeze on your child’s credit to block all unauthorized inquiries. There is typically a one-time cost ranging from $2-$15, depending on the state. You also may be charged a similar fee to temporarily or permanently lift the freeze.
- File a police report.
- Contact businesses identified in your child’s credit report. Request that any account associated with your child’s Social Security number be closed.
- Contact all three credit reporting agencies. Request the removal of all accounts, inquiries and collection notices asocial with your child’s name and Social Security number.
Learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft »
Trevor Buxton says fraudsters are attracted to the unblemished state of a child’s credit profile, which can offer uninhibited, fraudulent activity
A security freeze provides greater protection than credit monitoring services alone. Credit monitoring provides alerts to unauthorized inquiries and activity in a credit profile, whereas a security freeze prevents inquiries from ever taking place.
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