Have you ever received a piece of junk mail addressed to your underage child that you simply discarded? Next time, dig a little deeper into the content. Why? Because a credit card or loan offer can be one warning sign that your child may be a victim of identity theft.
All it takes is a Social Security number, which can be paired with a different name, birth date and address to apply for credit. Fraudsters create these “synthetic identities” and can often go undetected until a child turns 18.
Using a stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open up credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs. Warning signs your child may be a victim include:
- Notified by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your child’s name.
- Notified that a child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return.
- Receiving collection calls for a minor child
- Receiving bills in child’s name for products or services not ordered or delivered.
- Declined for government benefits because benefits already are being paid to another account using the child’s Social Security number.
Below are steps parents can take to protect their child from identity theft:
- Never carry your child’s (or your) Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Keep it in a safe place, where it is not at risk of being stolen.
- Pay attention to forms from schools, doctors and others asking for personally identifiable information about your child. Opt out if you can or use only the last four digits of a Social Security number.
- Before discarding, shred all documents that show your child’s personally identifiable information, just as you do for your own documents.
- Most importantly: Request a credit report for your child annually, using the child’s Social Security number for reference. You can request one free copy of the credit report once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. If there is a credit history for a minor child, he/she has mostly likely become a victim.
If you suspect your child may be a victim:
- Place a 90-day credit alert on your child’s file. There is no charge, but it must be renewed every 90 days. Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies who will then contact the other two:
- Equifax: www.equifax.com or call 800-525-6285
- Experian: www.experian.com or call 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: www.transunion.com or call 800-680-7289
- Place a security freeze on your child’s credit to block all unauthorized inquiries. There is typically a one-time cost ranging from $2-$15. You also may be charged a similar fee to temporarily or permanently lift the freeze.
- File a police report.