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How Can You Prevent Child Identity Theft

At some point, just about everyone has been affected by a data breach. But have you considered that your children's information may also have been compromised? Unfortunately, kids are also at risk of identity theft. So, how does their information get stolen, and what can you do to protect it? Read on to find out.

Happy girl using tablet with her father, mother in the background reading on the couch.

Why Children Are Susceptible to Identity Theft

There are a few reasons, partly because most people only check their identity score or report once they need to. So, children's information often goes unchecked until they apply for a loan or their first credit card, leaving thieves plenty of time to use a victim's information to rack up debt. And because of this lack of credit history, kids credit reports will likely arrive in thieves' hands clean and blemish-free, unlike many adults. If you wait until your kids are 18 to check their credit history, you could be leaving the door open to a mountain of fraud, which can take a substantial amount of time and money to clean up.

Understanding Child Identity Theft

It occurs when a fraudster steals a child's personal information, such as their Social Security number, to commit financial fraud. These fraudsters may use your child's information to open bank accounts, apply for credit or unemployment benefits, sign up for utility service, file a fraudulent tax return, or even get a job. Because of this activity, your child is ultimately the victim of serious negative consequences, affecting their financial future before they even have a chance to grow up.

How Child Identity Theft Happens

There are a few different ways your child's information can be stolen:

  • Familial fraud

    Family members, close friends, and legal guardians are most likely to commit this crime. They have easy access to sensitive documents and, in many cases, can use your child's information for years before they're caught.

  • Phishing scams

    These can happen over social media, text, or email, for example. These scams try to trick you into handing over your child's sensitive information. It's always worth the extra step to call the requestor directly (not the phone number a potential fraudster provided) to verify its legitimate.

  • Synthetic identity theft

    Rather than taking someone else's identity entirely, fraudsters will use this method to combine fake and real information to create an entirely new identity. Children's information is particularly attractive because they have no financial history and give the fraudster a clean slate to work with.

  • Social media

    Be mindful of the information you and your child share. Sometimes, sharing a tidbit here and there, like their birthday or what school they go to, can add up to just enough information fraudsters need to steal all or some of your child's identity. The same goes for your children; talk with them about what is and is not okay to share online, teach them to use the internet safely, spot red flags, and know when to come to you or a trusted adult for help.

  • Data breaches

    While there's no controlling when or to what company a data breach will strike, you can be mindful of privacy policies and what information, if any, to share. Generally speaking, if it's optional, keep your or your child's information private. Read privacy policies and understand how you can keep information from being shared with other companies to limit which companies have access to your data. The less, the better!

Signs of Child Identity Theft

Below is a list of the main things you want to keep an eye out for. Know that credit reporting agencies do not keep credit files on minors. This means that if you do find out your child has a credit file, they're likely already a victim of identity theft. Its a good idea to call the three major credit bureaus (listed at the end of this article) to confirm that they don't have a credit report on file for your children.

  • You're denied government benefits, such as health care coverage or nutrition assistance because someone else is already getting benefits using your child's information.
  • Financial-related mail addressed to your child, such as bills, credit cards, or pre-approved credit offers.
  • You begin receiving phone calls, mail, or other correspondence from debt collectors for debts your child supposedly owes.
  • Strange notices or requests from the IRS, such as:

    • A notice that your child failed to pay income tax when they didnt have income.
    • A request confirming employment when your child is unemployed.
    • Notices that your child's information is listed on a tax return you did not file.

Consequences of Child Identity Theft

The worst case scenario is that your child's credit can take a while to repair, which means they'll face challenges in getting student loans and other credit, finding housing, and even finding a job. They may also have to deal with legal issues depending on what their identity was used to do, which can be complicated and time-consuming, to say the least. Having your identity stolen can also cause stress, a sense of betrayal, and trouble trusting others, among other emotional challenges. As difficult as it is for adults to deal with their identity being stolen, its as hard or harder for kids to deal with the situation.

Protecting Children from Identity Theft

Education is one of the best forms of prevention. Teach your children the importance of protecting their personal information and the risks of sharing anything online or with the wrong person or company. You can also request their credit reports from the three major credit bureaus regularly. This way, if you see any activity at all, you can get in contact immediately to learn the exact steps to report fraudulent activity since it will be slightly different for each bureau. Early detection can minimize the damage!

How Do I Find Out if Someone is Using Your Child's SSN

The first step is getting a copy of your child's credit report. You can contact each of the three major credit bureaus separately to request their report. If any activity (fraud) is found, immediately file an identity theft complaint with your local police department and get a copy of the police report. Then, you can contact the three major credit bureaus separately to submit the police report to them and request a security freeze, which is free for identity theft victims. If you'd rather put a freeze in place just to be safe, you also have that option. Freezes don't always last forever, so ask how long they last so you know when to put another freeze in place.

WaFd Bank is Here to Help

Not only are our friendly bankers here for any financial questions you might have, WaFd also offers a variety of checking accounts, some of which come with rewards that help you keep tabs on whats important to you (including your credit). You can also get access to other rewards like health discounts, mobile phone protection, and more. Visit your local branch or give us a call at 800-324-9375 to learn more, or open your account online today!

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