August 7, 2017

Parents do their best to keep their children safe. They advise them to wear a helmet when biking, avoid talking to strangers, and look both ways before crossing the street. But there’s one type of danger that’s hard to avoid. A recent study indicated that up to 10% of America’s youth have potentially been targets of identity theft.

The large majority of children under the age of 18 have blank credit profiles which make them uniquely valuable to identity thieves. There’s no credit profile established, children’s social security numbers can be paired with any name to buy cars, apply for loans, open credit cards, or procure driver’s licenses.

What makes child identity theft particularly troubling is that it can go unnoticed for several years leaving a complete financial disaster for the child when they turn 18 and begin applying for student loans, credit cards, mobile phones, or an apartment. If the incident occurred years in the past, it can be virtually impossible to track down the criminal.

How does this happen? Even more so than adults, children’s Social Security Numbers (SSN) are used frequently as a form of identification at schools, doctor’s offices, and any number of extracurricular activities. If a child’s SSN is easily accessible in a written file or on an unprotected computer network, it could be targeted by identity thieves. Additionally, credit bureaus do not have checks in place to verify the age on credit applications. An individual’s credit profile begins when the first application is received. If the application says 26, then the credit bureaus will assume that’s true.

While it’s impossible to absolutely prevent identity theft, there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce your child’s risk:

  • If your child’s Social Security Number is being requested, it’s always okay to ask why it’s needed and if it’s completely neccessary. In most cases, an alternative identification number can be created.
  • don’t carry your child’s Social Security card with you. If your wallet or purse is ever lost of stolen, this could cause some big problems for you both in the future.
  • Shred or destroy any documents with your child’s SSN, such as medical or school records. If they need to be retained, make sure they are kept in a secure location.
  • Talk to your kids about the importqance of identity security. Let them know that they should never share their phone number, address, or SSN with anyone unless there’s a parent present.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If credit card offers are arriving at your house with your child’s name on them, it’s a good sign that something isn’t right.
  • Once a year, ensure that your child’s credit is untouched by attempting to pull a credit report from any number of free credit report sites. If your child’s credit is secure, the credit bureau will not be able to provide a report. If you do request a credit report and one is returned, you should take immediate action.

One of the best ways to protect your child’s identity is to enroll them in our family identity protection program. You can monitor your child’s date from your own dashboard and receive an alert if any suspicious activity takes place by enrolling in Optima’s Family Protection Plan at https://optimatax.idprotectiononline.com/enrollment/.