We see headlines about data breaches fairly regularly, so it may not be all that surprising to hear about the identity theft that can follow. While we parents may be checking our credit histories and bank accounts more often to look for activity that’s not ours, there’s something else we should also be checking—the state of our children’s identities.
The FTC reported fewer than 14,000 cases of identity theft in 2017 involving people 19 and under. So while the numbers aren’t huge, child identity theft does happen, and it can present serious issues for victims and their parents.
Child identity theft occurs when someone uses personally identifiable information like a child’s Social Security number to commit fraud. This might include opening bank and credit card accounts, taking out loans, or applying for employment, as we explain here.
Child identity theft is unique and attractive to thieves for several reasons. In this article, we’ll share some child identity theft statistics and facts, so you can stay on the alert, recognize red flags, and help keep your child’s identity safe.
Child Identity Theft: 5 Facts You Need to Know
A child’s identity is very attractive to thieves.
What makes a child’s identity so attractive? It’s likely because their Social Security number and credit history represent a clean slate that will remain untouched—and potentially unchecked—for, possibly, quite a few years. This can allow thieves a lot of time to open new credit card accounts, obtain driver’s licenses, get a job, and even buy homes and cars.
It’s also a relatively easy crime to commit; a thief could pair any name and birth date with a stolen Social Security number, essentially creating a false identity.
Family members may be the culprits.
A disturbing fact about child identity theft is that family members or others who are close to the child are sometimes the culprits. Why? Proximity. If someone has messed up their own credit, an easy, close-at-hand “solution” may be stealing the Social Security number of a child in their own home or that of a friend or relative.
That stolen Social Security number could be used for everything from obtaining utility services to opening credit cards and bank accounts. And the end result—for the child—can be a mess. Child identity theft can wreak havoc on the victim, just as they transition from childhood to adulthood. A damaged credit history could prevent the victim from obtaining school loans, renting that first apartment, or even getting a job.
This fraud can be particularly difficult to recover from because the parents who normally would provide support may be the criminals. Or the parents may have to accuse friends or family members of stealing their child’s identity.
In many child identity theft cases, unlawful debt could have been piling up for years. For the children who discover it, especially when the culprits are family or friends, the whole process can be devastating. Not only could they face the daunting task of cleaning up their finances, but they also could face the challenge of accusing a loved one of stealing their identity.
- Your child’s identity may be compromised at school.
Do you fill out your child’s school forms without thinking about where the information is going, how it will be stored, and who may have access to your child’s personal information? Another common way child identities are stolen is from school records or from a doctor’s office.
One way to help protect your child’s information is to withhold their Social Security number from school forms unless it is legally required. Schools should never use a child’s Social Security number as an identification number.
- Children in foster care may be particularly vulnerable.
Children in foster care may be particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they may not have a permanent address and their personal information is often shared among several adults and agencies. They also may not have an adult watching out for their financial interest.
- Child ID theft may not be realized for years.
The crime of child identity theft may go on longer than other types of identity theft, because young children are less likely to use credit or take steps to help protect their identities.
If the theft remains undetected, a thief could use a child’s Social Security number to build a credit file for years to create a false identity for themselves. This may not be discovered until a child applies for a driver’s license, job, or financial aid for school. Parents may not monitor their children’s identities, and thieves may use this to their advantage.
After so many years have passed, debts pile up. It can be quite challenging to track down the thief and clean up their mess.
Protecting Those Most Vulnerable: Our Children
As you can see from the facts above, child identity theft is a crime that affects a vulnerable segment of our population: our children.
In today’s digital world, adults may be fully aware of the need to protect our own personal information. But we also need to realize criminals may already be using some children’s personal information for fraudulent purposes. Parents often don’t realize this because they didn’t think they needed to check their children’s credit or finances. After all, they aren’t supposed to have any such records!
There are several things you can do to help protect your child from ID theft along with actions you can take if you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen. Most important: Be proactive and act quickly if you become aware of red flags or discover your child’s identity may have been stolen.