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Protecting your own identity can be tough. Now add your children into the mix. Identity theft can affect all people, and last year more than 1 million children fell victim to some sort of identity fraud.
Fraudsters have a plethora of ways they can use personal information maliciously. From Social Security numbers to social media usernames and passwords, once fraudsters get their hands on your child's information, they have plenty of ways to exploit their identities.
If you recently found out that your child's personal information was compromised, it's important you know what to do to minimize the impact and make sure it doesn't happen again. Experian spoke with Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, about the impacts of identity fraud and the possible actions you can take if your child has been affected.
"Our advice is: React, don't panic," Velasquez says. "We want you to take action, investigate, learn more about what it was, and then take the appropriate steps based on trusted expert advice."
To help you find out if your child's identity has been compromised, Experian's Child ID Scan searches the dark web for the child's personal information, including Social Security number, email, phone number and more. If the scan finds any aspect of their information, you'll get an alert and can then act accordingly.
How to Take Action When Your Child's Identity Is Stolen
If you recently learned that your child's personal information was compromised—whether through an alert from Experian or elsewhere—see below to learn more about each alert or potential compromise and actions you can take next.
Your Child's Social Security Number Is Online
If your child's Social Security number was found somewhere on the internet, it doesn't necessarily mean that the number is being used by anyone—yet. To minimize possible damage, take the following steps:
- Figure out if the Social Security number has been used to open any accounts. Check your child's credit report—if they have one—to see if any fraudsters used their Social Security number to open new credit accounts. Depending on their age, some children may not have a credit report. Until a fraudster uses the Social Security number to open credit accounts, there is little you can do except be vigilant that no new accounts get opened.
- Dispute any fraudulent accounts. If you find an account has been opened using your child's Social Security number, file a dispute with each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) as soon as possible.
- Consider freezing your child's credit. This action prevents others from using the child's information to open new credit accounts. Read more about credit freezes below.
Your Child's Social Security Number Is Associated With a New Alias
This means that a new name has been associated with the credit report attached to your child's Social Security number. Depending on your child's age and credit activity, this could mean different things. Be aware that some people may receive this alert if there's been a change to how their name is listed on any credit accounts and doesn't always indicate fraud.
- Determine whether the new alias is fraudulent. Aliases can be created by your child, by a fraudster or simply by error. While an alias might sound scary, this alert can be triggered if a different variation of your child's name was found associated with one of their accounts. It could also be triggered if someone other than your child—a fraudster—opens an account that is then listed on your child's credit report. If you receive this alert, it's important to determine whether the alias is fraudulent so you can plan your next step.
- Dispute a fraudulent alias appearing on the credit report. Contact the credit bureaus to dispute the alias associated with your child's Social Security number.
- Consider freezing your child's credit report.
Your Child's Email Address Is Online
This discovery shows that your child's email address was found somewhere on the internet. There is little you can do if your child's email is floating around the web other than having them create a new email address and educating them on how to stay protected from email scams.
- Teach your child about the dangers of email scams. An exposed email address becomes dangerous when fraudsters target that email for any type of phishing scam. Teach your children to verify sender addresses and not to open attachments from unknown senders to help protect against these types of fraud.
- Make sure your child has a secure password and is using email responsibly. Secure passwords and responsible email use may help protect your child's email from damaging hacks or scams. While these are not foolproof methods, getting in the habit of using strong passwords can help keep fraudsters away from your sensitive personal information. Also make sure your children are being cautious of when and to whom they send any sensitive information.
Your Child's Phone Number Is Online
If your child's phone number was found somewhere on the internet, there is little you can do to combat the issue except change their phone number and remain vigilant against phone scams.
- Teach your child about phone scams. Similar to email phishing, fraudsters are constantly using people's phone numbers to run scams. If your child's phone number was exposed, it is important you teach them how to identify and avoid phone scams. An exposed phone number can become extremely dangerous if it's used to scam more sensitive information.
What to Know (and Have) When Contacting Credit Bureaus
Most of the time, if a fraudulent account has been opened with your child's Social Security number, you will need to contact one or all of the three major credit bureaus to open a dispute. Credit bureaus maintain records of most credit accounts, and disputes can be initiated if there is inaccurate or fraudulent information on your credit report. To dispute something on your child's report, you'll need to prove that the credit report and Social Security number belongs to your child and that you are their legal guardian.
The specific documents and processes you need to do this may vary depending on the credit bureau, but generally you'll need to provide your child's birth certificate, Social Security card and a copy of your government-issued ID. Contact each credit bureau directly to find out what their process is for opening a dispute on your child's behalf. Remember, if a fraudulent account was opened with your child's Social Security number, a record of the account may have been reported to all three bureaus, which means you may have to file an individual dispute with each bureau to clear the record completely.
Report the Fraud to the Authorities
If you've determined that your child's information was stolen and misused, consider also reporting the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees identity theft issues for the federal government. Its website, identitytheft.gov, accepts reports of fraud and outlines recovery steps for those affected.
An FTC report won't clear any issues on its own, but it can be an important resource when working to resolve any issues with creditors or the credit bureaus later on.
Steps to Secure Your Child's Identity in the Future
Child identity theft can wreak havoc on your child's financial life if it's not detected early. And once your child's information is compromised, it can be tough to regain control over the information.
Being proactive is one of the best ways to protect your child's personal information and identity. Here a few things you can do to help secure your family's personal information.
- Enroll in an identity monitoring program. Consider enrolling in a credit and identity monitoring program. Experian's Family ID Theft Monitoring plan allows you to keep an eye on your whole family's personal information to make sure it isn't being misused. 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 is a great way to make sure no new accounts are opened in their name. This is an especially good 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. You can freeze your child's credit for free with each credit bureau.
- Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. The ITRC is a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of identity theft resolve their cases. If your child has been affected by identity fraud, the ITRC can help you navigate the sometimes complicated process of figuring out what to do and who to contact to resolve your issue.