A record 16.7 million U.S. consumers were victims of identity theft in 2017, according to Javelin Research and Strategy. Having your personal information stolen can cause serious tumult for your wallet, credit score, and emotional wellbeing.
But identity theft isn't just happening to adults, and the impact doesn't just stop at your wallet. Child identity theft is on the rise—over 1 million children were victims in 2017—and many families say it's causing a serious emotional strain.
To raise awareness of child identity theft and the corrosive impact it can have on families, Experian has designated Sept. 1 to be "Child Identity Theft Awareness Day." The publisher of this blog also recently introduced a Family Identity Protection Service to help parents monitor their children's personal information and protect against fraud.
The Shocking Cost of Child Identity Theft
Child identity fraud caused a total of $2.6 billion in losses and forced families to pay over $540 million out-of-pocket to resolve fraudulent activity last year, according to Javelin.
The financial cost is bad, but a new survey by Experian reveals something truly disturbing: 33% of child identity theft victims knew the person who stole their information — be it a relative, family friend, coach, babysitter or other acquaintance.
Even more shocking, in cases where respondents found out who stole their identity, over 40% said one of their parents was responsible. In some cases, recovering from the theft can force a victim to make a difficult decision: choosing between reporting a family member to the police or living with debt or a poor credit score.
"It adds a layer of complexity to an already complex problem," says Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit that supports victims of identity theft.
Given that, it's not surprising Experian's survey also found that 35% of respondents who've been affected by child identity theft said they had to seek professional help to deal with the emotional strain.
Child ID Theft: The Emotional Toll Is Real
More than half of the parent-participants in the survey said they were stressed, and nearly all reported being angry by the fraud. The same was true of the child-victims—some of whom are now adults—who reported being stressed, angered, and concerned by the theft of their personal information.
And when it came to family relations, many of the respondents said that child identity theft caused trouble at home: 17% of people reported that personal relationships suffered as a result of child identity fraud.
When they looked back, more than half of the children surveyed also reported that they wished their parents had done more to protect them from potential fraud. And 61% of parents agreed that they should have done more to protect their child's information.
What Can I Do to Protect My Child from Identity Theft?
As the number of data breaches increases and child identity theft becomes more common, parents need to be more aware of the risk to their children's personal information.
Velasquez is "deeply concerned that we are going to see a significant increase in the number of child identity theft cases."
Parents need to be informed about the true dangers and risks of child identity fraud, including the risk of your child having to manage serious debt or a damaged credit report for years to come.
Of the parents and children surveyed by Experian, more than 85% agreed that early detection of fraudulent activity was key to easing the process of restoring their personal and financial identity after ID theft. And while one in four people in the survey were still struggling, many had taken steps to understand how to protect their child and family from the financial and emotional harm.
Half of the respondents said that they no longer share personal information with family, and nearly two-thirds said that they actively check their credit score now. Another 42% say they have enrolled in a theft protection or credit monitoring product.
In its 2017 annual report, the ITRC found that even where a family member was not involved, victims of child identity theft often reported being seriously upset.
Three-quarters of the people surveyed by ITRC said they were severely distressed over the misuse of their personal information. Another 7% reported feeling suicidal as a result of the fraud, a frightening indicator of just how serious the fallout from child identity theft can be.
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 August 29, 2018, and has been updated.