Generally speaking, credit reports are not kid-stuff. Minors typically do not have them, which is one reason why criminals find stealing a child's identity so tempting: It's a clean slate and little Jimmy and Jane aren't going to notice—and it might be a long time before parents or caregivers catch on.
Thieves can use that time to establish bogus addresses and bank accounts in your child's name, before ultimately borrowing money (opening bogus credit card accounts, utility service accounts, financing a vehicle etc.), and then disappearing, leaving unpaid bills as a black mark on your child's credit history.
According to the latest Data Breach report by the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fielded nearly 14,000 complaints of identity theft affecting children and teens (age 19 and under) in 2017, and there's a good chance many more cases haven't yet been detected.
If you suspect your child is the victim of identity theft—or if you just want to ensure no one has borrowed money using your child's identity—you can check with the national credit bureaus to see if credit reports have been established in your child's name. You can check to see if an Experian credit report exists for your child using Experian's free Child ID Scan service.
The process is straightforward; but because children are involved, it's a little more complicated than obtaining your own credit report. We'll review how to go about it, and how to address any issues you uncover in the process.
Why Would a Child Even Have a Credit Report?
A credit report is a record of debt and payment history—how much was borrowed and when, and when it was repaid—maintained by one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion).
Lenders cannot legally collect unpaid debts for loans or credit cards issued to anyone under the age of 18, and the CARD Act prohibits extending a credit card account to anyone under age 21 unless they can prove the ability to repay the debt. For those reasons, lenders typically won't approve credit for minors, so children don't generally have credit histories to compile.
Parents can make children under 18 authorized users on their accounts, but most pre-teens don't have credit reports—or at least they shouldn't have them.
Child Identity Theft
If you haven't authorized your child to use your own credit card account, the only way he or she could have a credit report is if someone else has applied for credit, loans, government benefits, utilities or apartment rental in his or her name, using the child's personally identifiable information.
Experian does have check and balances in place to monitor for Social Security numbers that belong to a minor. If a lender requests a credit report for a minor, Experian will alert the lender that the SSN belongs to a minor to prevent an account from being opened.
For an added sense of well-being, Experian also offers an Identity Theft Prevention Family Plan, which includes credit-activity monitoring for two adults and up to 10 children under 18.
7 Ways to Protect Your child's Credit and Identity
Here's how to check whether your child has a credit report, and what to do if you discover any bogus activity:
1. Report Any Crime Immediately
It includes the form you should use to report what was done in your child's name (scroll down to the "Special Forms of Identity Theft section and click "Child Identity Theft"). Upon completing the form, you'll be issued a report that you can download, print out, and bring to local law enforcement agencies. Creditors may also ask you to submit a copy of the report along with other documentation of the identity theft.
If you have a family identity theft protection plan with Experian IdentityWorks, you also have access to Membership Support staff who will help you determine the impact and walk you through the process of restoring your child's identity.
2. Contact Creditors If You've Received Any Communications Already
If you receive notice from a lender, merchant or collections agency pursuing unpaid debts in your child's name, you should get in touch with them immediately—before you seek your child's credit report.
If you've heard from one bilked creditor, there's a good chance there will be others, so follow up by checking your child's credit reports for additional fraudulent accounts. Contact each by phone, and follow up by mail as described above, including the Minor's Status Declaration and birth certificate.
3. Request Your Child's Credit Report
Each of the three national credit bureaus has procedures in place for obtaining credit reports for minor children. Because underage children are involved (and to prevent criminals from obtaining and misusing the information), documentation is required to prove who you are and that you are in fact the parent or legal guardian of the child in question.
|Report Child Identity Theft to Experian|
|Experian provides a downloadable request form for purposes of reporting minor-child identity theft. When submitting the completed form, you must also include the following:|
|Your credentials||Your child's credentials|
|A copy of your driver's license or another government-issued ID||Your child's date of birth|
|Proof of your address, such as a copy of a bank statement, utility bill, or insurance statement||A copy of their birth certificate|
|A list of any previous address(es) where you've resided in the past two years||Your child's full name, including middle initial and any post-nominals (Jr., II, III, etc.)|
|A copy of their Social Security card|
Requests for your child's credit reports can be submitted by mail or scanned and uploaded digitally at:
4. Contact Creditors If Credit Report(s) Are Found
If your child has no credit report on file, the credit bureau will confirm that. If one or more credit reports exist, each will list any loans or credit card accounts that have been opened using the child's Social Security number, along with contact information (mailing address and phone number, if available) for each creditor.
Call each creditor, noting when you call and the name of each person with whom you speak. Explain that the account holder is a minor whose identity has been stolen and ask for the account to be closed. Follow up with a letter recapping the situation, and include a copy of your child's birth certificate and a signed Uniform Minor's Status Declaration obtained from The U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Ask the creditor to send you written confirmation that they have closed the accounts.
5. Apply Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes If Necessary
If you've determined your child has a credit report, ask Experian to place a fraud alert on the account. Experian will automatically notify the other two national credit bureaus to do the same. The alert will notify creditors that the credit report they are requesting is for a minor who may be the victim of identity theft. This alert will remain on your child's credit report for for 12 months.
You may also want to consider having each of the national credit bureaus to place security freezes on your child's credit file. That will prevent the opening of any new accounts or processing of any credit applications indefinitely, until you ask for the freeze to be removed. You obtain (and remove) a credit freeze from Experian here; from Equifax here; and from TransUnion here.
It's important to remember that reports will need to be unfrozen before your child applies for credit, or submits an application that might require a credit check, such as applying for a job, securing a cell phone contract or applying for an apartment rental.
Lifting a security freeze is not difficult and is now free, but a request may take a few days to process, so it should be done before any applications are submitted to avoid hitches in the process.
6. Follow up and Stay Vigilant
Keep track of the creditors' confirmations that they've closed the accounts set up in your child's name. If necessary, follow up by phone or mail to make sure you have proof each account has been closed. Keep all of that documentation, along with notes about each call and correspondence, in a secure spot.
Follow up with the credit bureaus to make sure they remove the bogus activity from your child's credit report. The FTC recommends you check for credit reports for each child before they turn 16. Doing so allows you to correct any problems you discover before they start applying for student loans, submitting apartment-rental credit checks, etc.
7. Go the Extra Mile
Experian recommends going a step further. Even if your child has no credit report, continue to request one from each of the national bureaus once or even twice a year, to make sure none is created. Once you've assembled the necessary documentation, doing so takes only a few minutes.
Seeking reports for all your minor children will let you detect and respond quickly to any bogus activity in your child's name, and will make the process of correcting the record simpler than it would be after years of unawareness.
Child identity theft is a malicious crime that often goes undetected far too long. As with other childhood afflictions, prevention and early detection are the best courses. We hope your child is never a victim, but if thieves strike, you can contain and clean up the damage they do before lasting harm is done.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on March 15, 2018, and has been updated.