The Truth Behind Child Identity Theft
Recent hacks at VTech and Hello Kitty that exposed the personal information of millions of children are great reminders of the need to protect children from identity theft. But what exactly is child identity theft, and why is it so important to act now?
What is child identity theft? By definition, it is the unauthorized use of a child’s personally identifiable information (PII), such as their Social Security number (SSN), name and/or address. It is incredibly dangerous because a child’s identity is rarely monitored and theft is usually not detected for years. Child identity theft can destroy a child’s financial identity before they even have the ability to establish credit for themselves.
Who targets children? Here’s one example of child identity theft: a thief can use a child’s PII (e.g. a SSN) along with PII of another person (e.g. a name or address) to create an entirely new identity. Known as synthetic identity theft, thieves using this highly-sophisticated type of theft will build credit and make large purchases, leaving debt in a victim’s name since the new identity is attached to a SSN.
Worse than a stranger stealing a child’s identity is the unauthorized use of a child’s SSN by a person of trust, such as a parent or guardian. In these cases, the adult typically has poor credit and is using the child’s information for accounts, such as utilities. While usually well-intentioned, if the adult does not pay on the account as obligated, the debts will reflect on the child’s credit report until it is reported as fraudulent activity.
How can you identify child identity theft? According to IdentityTheft.gov, you can contact the credit bureaus and ask each to run a “SSN-only” inquiry. This will determine if the child’s SSN is in use under any name. You should also closely monitor any mail that arrives in your child’s name. Children can also be protected under a family plan with EZShield Fraud Protection.
How can you resolve child identity theft? IdentityTheft.gov states that “because a minor cannot legally agree to contracts, any debts on your child’s credit report are fraudulent by definition.” Thus, if you suspect your child has become a victim of identity theft, you will need to “send each credit reporting agency the Minor’s Status Declaration form. It provides proof that your child is a minor. Include a letter with the form that asks for all information associated with your child’s name or SSN to be removed.”
ACT NOW to prevent child identity theft! Parents or guardians should secure children’s PII in a safe or locked file cabinet. Always question when this information is required (e.g. school enrollment) and ask how it will be safeguarded. Never give out a child’s PII unless absolutely necessary. Also, consider freezing your child’s credit profile until they are of age to manage their credit responsibly.
To learn more about SSNs for children, visit the Social Security Administration: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10023.pdf.