A Guide to Child Identity Theft Prevention
Identity theft is a serious problem in the United States. Cybercriminals are using malware, phishing, and other techniques to hijack a user’s digital identity and then use their credentials to commit fraud. Even unsecured mobile apps can be used to commit this fraud.
Less widely known is that identity theft does not only affect adults. Minors under the age of 18 can also have their identity stolen, sold on the Dark Web, and used for fraud. For that reason, it is important to understand this issue and know how to respond if it affects your own children or loved ones.
Child Identity Theft Statistics
Child identity theft is more prevalent than you may realize. Below are a few statistics from a 2018 CNBC article:
- More than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017
- Two-thirds of those victims were age 7 or younger
- Six in 10 victims personally knew their perpetrator
- Child fraud cost $2.6 Billion in 2017
Warning Signs of Child Identity Theft
If you know what to look for, there are warning signs that your child may have had their identity stolen. Take note of the following warning signs of common account takeover and fraud schemes:
- If your child receives mail or phone calls from a creditor or debt collection agency
- If there are unknown accounts listed in their credit report
- If your child’s social media or email accounts are sending spam messages
- A notice from the IRS claiming unpaid taxes
This is not an exhaustive list, and even if none of the above occur, you child’s identity may still be compromised. However, if you do notice these signs, it is important to take action as soon as possible.
What to Do If Your Child’s Identity Was Stolen
If you have reason to believe your child’s identity was stolen, take the following steps.
Credit agencies, the IRS, and any other organization is going to need proof of the fraud to repair any damage. Document everything. Keep every document. Every piece of communication put in writing should be saved and stored. It will be much easier to prove your child’s innocence with this information.
File a Report
File a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can do so at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877-ID-THEFT.
Contact Businesses, Credit Bureaus, and Credit Card Companies
The next step is to reach out to the businesses and credit card companies where your child’s information was misused. Explain to them that the identity was stolen, these purchases are fraudulent, and request that the accounts be closed.
From there, you will need to contact the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experion, to remove fraudulent information associated with the account. Meanwhile, review the child’s credit report and place a fraud alert on it.
Most importantly, you must remain patient throughout this process. There is no quick fix, and it will take time and effort to undo the damage done by identity theft.
Tips to Prevent Child Identity Theft
The best way to combat child identity theft is to prevent it in the first place. Below, we’ve compiled a list of security best practices that will reduce the risk of your child’s identity being stolen.
Don’t Share Their SSN
This is true of all individuals. Do not readily share your social security number with websites or non-government organizations (NGOs) unless absolutely necessary. This information alone is enough to do serious damage to your child’s credit. The fewer organizations that possess this information, the less likely it will be that the number is stolen.
Take Action After a Breach
If you read of a data breach at an organization that possesses your child’s personally identifiable information (PII), take action. These organizations might include your child’s school, healthcare provider, or part-time employer. Regardless, call the organization and ask for details on the breach and learn what steps they are taking to address the issue.
Enact a Credit Freeze
Requesting a credit freeze from the three major credit bureaus is the only ironclad protection that is guaranteed to prevent child identity theft, because the freeze will prevent the bureaus from issuing credit to your child. Even if they do steal your child’s personal information, they cannot use it to take out loans.
Be Wary of Other Adults
Regrettably, as pointed out by CNBC, the majority of child identity theft is perpetrated by someone the child knows. Be cautious with your child’s private and personal information, even with family and friends.
Make sure you are banking with an organization that makes use of sophisticated multi-factor authentication (MFA). As a consumer, this is the first building block of protecting yourself online. From there, you should look for banks and businesses that use sophisticated, automated fraud management tools, such as risk analytics. These tools help an organization identify fraud in real-time, allowing them to respond more quickly. In addition, when signing documents digitally in your child’s name, be sure the organization is using secure e-signature solutions.
The Threat of Child Identity Theft Is Real
It can be difficult for people to prioritize their security against a threat they cannot see and could strike without you knowing. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to pinpoint when and where your child’s identity was stolen, so it is important to follow these best practices at all times. The risk of identity theft is real, but it can be curbed by being proactive and mindful.