Many parents of young children today grew up in a high-tech world, using social sharing platforms to keep friends and family near and far up to date on the family.

A timeline is like a modern-day scrapbook where memories can be revisited and shared with many people at one time. Unfortunately, it also holds bits and pieces of sensitive personal information of value to identity thieves.

When combined with a Social Security number, often available for a small price on the dark web, your child’s identity could be used for years by someone else to rack up loans, credit cards and more, in your child’s name. Trevor Buxton, fraud communications manager at PNC Bank and father of a pre-school child, helps parents understand the risks and what they can do to help protect their children from identity theft.

POV:  How can parents put their child at risk by simply posting information to social media channels?

Trevor Buxton: The act of parents sharing about their children on social media is called “sharenting.” This occurs when parents post details about their child on social media sites, creating a digital footprint of the child over which the child has no authority or control. In other words, the youngster does not give permission for mom or dad to post photos and news. And yet posting family news, like the arrival of a new baby, spreads the joyful news to friends and family, but also makes public multiple pieces of sensitive information, such as a genuine birth date, gender and sometimes a name.

Two potential options for identity theft exists. In some cases, the child’s identity is stolen outright, using the real name, birth date and even Social Security number. In other cases, thieves can piece together aspects of the child’s identity to create a synthetic identity, such as by combining the child’s Social Security number with an unassociated date of birth and home address. 

POV: Why are identity thieves targeting young children?

Buxton: A child typically would have no credit history whatsoever. A lack of negative credit information for a child means that an identity thief has an unobstructed road to open and use fraudulent credit accounts in the child’s name. Many parents don’t consider the possibility of their child being an identity theft victim, because their child isn’t going around applying for credit. Unfortunately, someone else may be doing that very thing using their child’s identity. It may only come to the attention of the parent or child when the child applies for a first job or student loans.

POV: What impact could that have on a child who is a minor (under 18)?

Buxton: Negative credit information tied to the child’s Social Security number creates credit-related obstacles later in their life. Unknown negative credit information may impede a child’s ability to obtain a lease on his first apartment, find employment or secure student loans.

Moreover, as children age and start going online themselves, they will have learned much of their online behaviors -- good and not-so-good -- from their parents. A child whose entire life has been digitally tattooed online may have a cavalier approach to sharing and posting sensitive information about himself (and others) on social platforms.

POV: How can I find out if someone is using my child's Social Security number?

Buxton: First, you should check with the Social Security Administration once a year to make sure no one is using your child's Social Security number. Secondly, you can check your child's credit report by calling the three credit bureaus. There is no charge to check:

  • Equifax -1-800-525-6285
  • Experian -1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion -1-800-680-7289

POV: What can I do to protect my child from identity theft?

Buxton: First, be thoughtful about the information you are posting about your child on social media channels. In addition, parents have several options to proactively protect their child’s identity. The most effective method is the security freeze which blocks all inquiries into your child’s credit report and essentially stops new accounts from being fraudulently opened in your child’s name. You must place a security freeze for your child with all three credit bureaus individually. Security freezes are governed by state law. What is relatively new is the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which took effect September 21, 2018, allowing consumers to place and lift security freezes free of charge. This legislation also extended the duration of fraud alerts from 90 days to one year.

Other options for parents to protect their child include:

  • Credit lock: May carry a monthly fee. Blocks all inquiries into a credit report, stops new account fraud before it occurs. Must be placed with each bureau individually. Product offered by credit bureaus, governed by terms of use, subject to change at any time.
  • Credit monitoring: Carries a monthly fee. Notifies consumer when new account fraud has occurred. Assists with identity theft recovery.
  • Fraud alert: Free for all consumers. Prompts lenders to contact consumers to authenticate an application for new credit. Must be renewed every year. Placing with one bureau automatically extends to the other two bureaus.

In 2017, more than a million children were affected by identity fraud, resulting in losses totaling $2.6 billion and families paying more than $540 million out of pocket, according to the Javelin Child Identity Fraud Study (2018).