Children make a tempting target for identity thieves because theft of a child's identity may go undetected for years. After a child is born, parents apply for a Social Security number and that is all the information necessary to open most credit accounts. Until a child applies for credit in his/her own name, this type of fraud goes undetected. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that children are 51% more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults.
Identity theft could affect your child's future credit and employment history and they could even have a criminal record for crimes they didn't commit. So how do you know if your child's identity has been stolen?
- Your child receives suspicious mail, such as preapproved credit cards and other financial offers usually made to adults, in his/her name.
- You try to open a financial account but find one already exits.
- You try to apply for a loan and the application is denied due to bad credit.
- A credit file already exits in your child's name. If your child has a credit file, he/she may have already been targeted since only an application for credit, an open credit account or a public record starts a credit file.
If you suspect that your child has been a victim of identity theft, contact the FTC and your local law enforcement agency. You also need to file a report with one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax). You need only contact one bureau and they will foward the information to the other two bureaus. Contact for the three credit bureaus can be found at http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin0203/three.html.
The FTC's revised Children's Online Privacy Protection Act Rule, which took effect July 1, 2013, widens the definition of children's personal information to include persistent identifiers such as cookies that track a child's activity online, geolocation information, photos, videos, and audio recordings. The FTC also has released guidance for small businesses and a video to help businesses comply with the rule: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0040-child-identity-theft.
To limit the risks of child identity theft, find out who has access to your child's personal information and pay attention to forms from their school. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enforced by the US Department of Education, protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents of school-age children the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families. Read the privacy policies of any organizations of which your child may be a member.
Using common sense in guarding your child's Social Security number and shredding documents that contain important and personal information are basic safeguards that apply to everyone. For more information, the Mill Valley Police Department offers "8 Ways to Protect Your Identity".