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Worried about protecting your identity? You should know your child's identity could be stolen too.
Child identity theft occurs when a child's identity is compromised by fraudsters. And just like normal identity theft, once a fraudster gets their hands on a piece of personal information, the damage they can do can take years to recover from. Read on to learn more about how to spot child identity theft and what you can do to protect your children's sensitive information.
How Child Identity Theft Can Happen
Child identity theft comes in many shapes and sizes. And while most children do not have multiple bank accounts or lines of credit, they still have a plethora of personal information that fraudsters can get their hands on.
From social media credentials to social security numbers, fraudsters will steal anything and everything they can. Compromised logins and passwords can give them access to other online accounts, and having social security numbers can allow them to open new accounts in your child's name.
What thieves get when they steal your child's identity depends on what type of accounts or information your child shares. Here are some popular ways fraudsters get their hands on people's personal information:
- Phishing scams. Phishing is when fraudsters use email or the telephone to trick you into giving them your personal information.
- Hacking. Hackers are constantly trying to infiltrate large systems to steal user data. Both small and large companies can be hacked, and if your child has an account with a company that's been hacked, their information may be exposed.
- Theft in the family. Unfortunately, a good amount of child identity theft occurs within families. Family members can take important documents and open accounts in children's names, and the close proximity can make it easy to go undetected. Be careful to secure your child's personal documents, even around family and friends.
How to Know Whether a Child's Identity Has Been Stolen
It's tough to know if your child's identity has been stolen. In some cases, you might not even find out until your child goes to apply for their first line of credit. Since children aren't actively using and checking their credit score, there's a low likelihood that they'll find out about their compromised identity until something bad happens.
There are some things that could tip you off that you child's information got into the wrong hands:
- If your child receives mail from a creditor or debt collection agency. This may mean a fraudster got their hands on your child's information and opened accounts in their name. If you know your child has no accounts, this is a large red flag that their identity has been compromised.
- If you check their credit and see unknown accounts. If for any reason you check your child's credit reports, look to see if there are any accounts you don't recognize. Remember that credit histories are not started until your child opens an account in their name (or you do it for them to give them authorized-user status), so if they have a credit report but have never opened a line of credit, that may mean their information has been compromised.
- Your child's online accounts have been posting spam. If a fraudster gets ahold of your child's login credentials for an online account, they could send spam emails or message. If this happens to your kid, this could be a sign that one of their accounts has been hacked.
Unfortunately, if you've noticed any of these things, your child's personal information has probably already been compromised. The sooner you catch these breaches the better, so be vigilant and think about creating an identity monitoring plan for your child.
How to Prevent Child Identity Fraud From Happening
Being proactive is the best way to protect your child's personal information and identity. Once your child's personal information is stolen, there is almost nothing you can do to get it back.
Here are a few things you can do to help protect your child's identity from fraudsters:
- Educate your child. Education is the simplest prevention method. Teach your child what to look for and how to conduct themselves responsibly online. Starting them early with these habits will protect them through their childhood and into their adult years, when it will become increasingly important to know how to protect themselves.
- Enroll in an identity monitoring program. Consider enrolling in a credit and identity monitoring program. Experian's IdentityWorksSM family identity theft monitoring plans help you keep an eye on your whole family's personal information to make sure it isn't being misused. Requesting a minor's credit report will check to see if your child has an Experian credit file, which could indicate fraud. Periodically checking to see if your child has a credit report can also help you keep track of any new accounts or unusual activity appearing under their name.
- Freeze your child's credit reports. Freezing your child's credit reports can help you make sure no new accounts are opened in their name. This is a great option if your child is still young and has no plans to open any credit accounts in the near future. Credit freezes stop potential lenders from accessing your credit reports, making it nearly impossible for a fraudster to open a new account in your name, even if they have your personal information.
What to Do if You Believe Your Child's Identity Has Been Stolen
If you've confirmed that your child's identity has been compromised, try to remain calm. Depending on what type of information was stolen, there are a few different routes you can take to remedy the situation.
If your child's Social Security number was compromised, contact one or all of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to lock your child's credit file and protect against fraudsters continuing to use their information. If an account was opened in your child's name, you'll also want to contact the bank or institution that the account was opened with. Be prepared with all the documents and evidence that will be needed to prove that your child is yours and that they did not open the account in question.
If another aspect of your child's information was taken, like their usernames or passwords, make sure they log in to all their online accounts and change their credentials as soon as possible. Also check that a hacker hasn't used any of their accounts for malicious purposes. Check for fraudulently sent emails and messages, because many times hackers will send malicious emails or messages from compromised accounts.
Once you've taken the appropriate steps to secure your child's credit reports and accounts, you should also consider reporting the identity theft to the proper authorities. You can make a report the illegal activity to the Federal Trade Commission. You can also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of identity theft resolve their cases.