ID theft can happen to a child as young as a few months old. Yes, an innocent child with no concept of money, banking, and much less, credit, can fall victim to child identity theft even before he can learn how to talk. An estimated 140,000 children in the US fall prey to ID theft annually, according to ID Analytics via Huffington Post. While that number is certainly chilling, the trauma of child ID theft is more real, more painful, if it happens to your children.
A child is a perfect target for an ID theft for a number of reasons:
1. The child or his parents don’t have a credit history recorded for the child until he is of legal age. Because a person cannot apply for credit accounts until they turn 18, there wouldn’t be a credit report under the child’s name until then. This means that the family would not be able to attach a fraud alert on the child’s file. And this, in turn, means that the only time the family will be able to learn that credit fraud has been committed using the child’s credentials is when the debt collectors come a-calling. This means, then, that the fraudster can run around creating new accounts and racking up purchases undetected, for years.
“Never in my wildest dreams had I thought to run a credit check on my son. And what parent would run a credit check on their child who’s in diapers, who’s crawling?” –”Allison,” via Today.com (See “Stop ID thieves from stealing your kid’s credit”)
2. The child has a clean credit history, which makes it easier to apply for credit with his credentials. This, of course, is the main reason why ID thieves target children and their SSN’s for committing fraud. Applicants with bad credit will instantly have their credit card applications denied. But when an ID thief uses a child’s clean credit history, guess what, he’ll be on a roll, running around with stolen credit.
3. The system makes it super easy for a child’s identity to be stolen. Do you know that all it takes to steal credit from a baby is his name and birthdate? No thanks to the credit industry’s system, wherein verifying an applicant’s birthdate is not required, an ID thief can create new accounts using stolen credentials. Another way for credit to be stolen so easily from a baby is a kind of ID theft that is hard to track: “SSN-Only ID Theft” or Synthetic ID Theft. If anyone has access to a list of SSN’s with a clean credit history, they can actually lift the SSN’s, combine it with another name and birthdate, then run with the credentials. Because this type of ID theft is hard to track, this ID theft could go on for years. So if the SSN with a clean credit history belongs to a child, child identity theft by random choosing just hit the family.
4. The ID theft will go undetected for up to 18 years. Exactly because it doesn’t make any sense to run a credit check for a child, there would be no way of knowing whether anyone has been using the child’s credit. Unless the debt collectors come calling, it would be rare for the parents to think that it would be a good idea to run a credit check for their child. This is why the thief can run an 18-year shopping spree, and it will only hit the child and the family that his credit has been badly damaged, at Age 18.
5. If the ID theft was committed by soliciting information from a child, it was only too easy to carry out. Since parents are increasingly allowing their children to go online and surf, possibly even chat, they could actually be receiving phishing mails. Phishing and scams can victimize anyone who can click a link in an email, fill up the form, and give away their passwords and credentials. When your children fall prey to this, the next event could be ID theft. They could also be victimized online when they give their full names and birth dates in a seemingly harmless chat with a stranger.
Given all these horrifying facts about child identity theft, how does a parent protect your child from Identity theft?
1. Prevent scams by regulating your child’s Internet use. Set specific times for your children to use the computers and the Internet, and keep the PC where everyone can pass by it and see the activities done on it.
2. Regularly check your child’s credit if he is under 16.FTC’s Steven Toporoff recommends that a credit check should be run for children every 3 or 4 years. Because of the Children’s Online Protection Act, no one will be able to obtain information online for a child 13 years and younger. If you really want to get a credit check for your child and (s)he is age 13 or below, you would have to apply for it in person.
3. As soon as your child turns 16, run a credit report for him. Because of the very real, very damaging nature of child identity theft, there is now a law that children can run their first credit report at age 16. This gives them and their parents 2 years to chase down all fraudulent activity and clear the child’s credit report before he turns 18 and files for a student loan or his first credit card.
Being able to protect your child from Identity theft should be your top priority, among teaching him never to go with strangers or take food from them. This is one of the ways you can keep your child secure from the dangers of life. It may be a chilling, devastating crime, but you can certainly monitor your child’s credentials and be able to do damage control speedily and efficiently, should it ever happen to your child.
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- Children Are Easy Prey to ID Theft – How To Protect Them - March 14, 2013