Since your kids are not legal adults and don’t have credit cards, they can’t be victims of identity theft, right? Wrong. Kids are actually more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults because it is easier for thieves to open accounts in a kid’s name. Why? If your child doesn’t have a credit card or loan account, there is no name or address connected to their social security number with the credit bureaus, which means a thief can easily use a stolen social security number to open accounts in any name they want.
Child identity theft is so common, in fact, that many identity theft experts say that around 1 in 40 households will fall victim to child identity theft, and that number keeps growing. Most parents aren’t aware of child identity theft and aren’t even sure how to protect their kids against it. In fact, many parents don’t discover the identity theft until their child tries to open their first credit card account, which can be years and years after the theft occurred.
So how do you protect your child against identity theft? Here are a couple of suggestions:
Be very careful of your child’s social security number. Many parents don’t think twice when handing over their kid’s social security number to a school or a coach, since these are generally trusted people in the child’s life. However, even if you trust the coach or the teacher, there are other people that work within the school or team, and any number of people could be handling the social security number.
What should you do? Whenever somebody asks for your kid’s social security number, ask them how the number will be used and who will have access to it. Schools have an obligation to tell you by law. If any other person, like a coach, refuses, you might want to think twice about giving the number to them.
Oftentimes, teachers or coaches will ask your child for personal information, like address or phone number. In most cases, this is just standard procedure. However, your child may just be used to giving out this information, so it is smart to have a conversation with them about when it is OK and not OK to give out personal information about themselves. Also, above all, make sure that your child does not know their own social security number. There is no need for them to know that information, and they are more likely to give it out without thinking than you are.
If your child starts getting credit card applications or pre-approvals in the mail, that is a definite warning sign. Look for any clues that accounts may be opened in your child’s name. Also, everyone gets an annual free credit report from the government, so take advantage of that and pull your child’s credit report once a year to search for signs of identity theft.
If you want to be more proactive, you can sign up for an identity theft protection service to monitor your child’s credit report for identity theft. Services like TrustedID have a family plan, so that you can monitor your own credit report as well as your kid’s credit report. Or you can sign up for a service like Lifelock that provide identity theft protection and can help you restore your identity if it has been stolen. Both services are currently having free trials, so you can try them out before you sign up for one.
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