Parents use the best car seats and baby gates, teach their kids to never talk to strangers, make sure they always wear a bike helmet and lock up the cleaning supplies. And as if parents didn’t have enough to worry about when it comes to protecting their children, another major threat is increasing in prevalence – and it’s one that is out of parents’ hands and could follow their children for the rest of their lives. It’s identity theft.
It’s tough to think about a 4-year-old opening up a cable account or raking up thousands in credit card debt, but it happens every day, according to experts, who say it is one of America’s fastest growing crimes.
The problem is worsened by the fact that many victims don’t even know that they have been victimized until their late teens or early twenties, when they try to open up accounts to begin building their credit and learn that not only do they have multiple existing accounts already open, but they are delinquent, with years and years (and thousands and thousands of dollars) in debt. And the victim has no idea when or how it happened, much less who committed to the crime.
Recent research has found that identity theft among children has skyrocketed in the past few years and its effects can be detrimental for its victims, resulting in poor credit, damaged background checks, defaulted loans and years of work to repair.
The best ID theft protection for your children is to be vigilant in your prevention against it.
Keep your children’s personal important documents, like birth certificate, Social Security card and passport locked up safe at home.
Only give out your child’s social security number when it’s absolutely necessary. This information should only be given out for official purposes, like registering for school, applying for a passport, opening first bank accounts, etc. If his or her doctor’s office asks for it, ask if there is another form of identification you can provide (such as showing his or her birth certificate) and ask if they can assign you a random number in their internal record keeping, rather than your child’s social security number. If any business insists on using your child’s social security number, keep track of when you gave it to them. If you have good records of everyone that you gave his or her private information to, it could help police track down the thief if, twelve years later, you discover a problem. Experts recommend not sharing your child’s personal information with even seemingly innocent groups, like churches or day camps.
Check your child’s social security earnings record. If someone uses your child’s social security number to get a job, you can find out with this report, which you can request by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting http://www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-7004.html.
Credit monitoring can help you detect a problem quickly. Pull your child’s free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion annually. Start with a free Equifax credit report.
Teach your children about protecting their information, especially online. Make sure they know to keep private information private, and to not share personal information (like their name, birthdate, address, etc.), in places like chat rooms, where thieves are looking for unsuspecting youths.
Keep your computer’s anti-virus software up to date. This will protect the entire family.