Identity theft. It's one of the hazards of modern living, and drives regular security practices such as shredding personal documents and making efforts to keep your personal information secure. Identity theft is what happens when someone gets a hold of your personal information and can do things like take out loans, apply for a place to live and open up bank accounts or take out credit cards. All of these things can be a huge burden and hassle to deal with, as they can affect your credit and financial history if left unchecked.
What Is Child Identity Theft?
But what about when it happens to children? Child identity theft is when someone gets a hold of your child's personal information (such as a Social Security number) and uses it to do any or all of the things above. Because a child has a clean slate when it comes to personal credit, they can be especially attractive targets for identity theft.
One of the difficult things about identity theft that affects children is that it can go undetected for a really long time. Children don't go around applying for loans or credit cards so families don't usually know that they are compromised. A study by Javelin Strategy found that in 2017 over one million children were victims of identity theft.
How Does It Happen?
One of the most common ways that a child gets their identity stolen is by thieves getting a hold of their Social Security number. They can then create a new identity with that number and a different birth date in order to create a whole new "person" profile that can be used for different purposes. In many cases, the child's information is stolen by someone who they know, and in other cases the crime is perpetrated by strangers. Even members of a child's own family may be committing this crime in order to deal with various consequences of economic hardship.
There are a few different ways that a stranger can access your child's information. One of the ways is a data breach of an online source. We all hear about these cases of large agencies getting hacked, and the data obtained from these hacks can contain a lot of personal information about individuals. There are other places that we give our children's personal information, such as schools, medical offices and when traveling. If a thief has a way to access the information stored through these activities, then they have the potential to commit identity theft and remain undetected for years.
What To Do If You Think Your Child's Identity Has Been Stolen
If you think that your child may have been the victim of identity theft, you can check whether you can get a credit report. This will give you the information about what is being done with your child's information and you can go from there. Some steps you can take are to contact the credit bureaus and inform them of the crime, get a credit freeze on your child (where they are essentially "on hold" from using credit until they come of age), and notify the companies that have been effected directly. You can also report it to the FTC online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT.
How To Protect Your Kids
To ensure the safety of your child's information it is important to make sure that records are kept safe or shredded so that they cannot be found by potential thieves. You also can ask at your child's school or programs about their data storage and information policies. Additionally, you may want to keep your child's information secure, even from friends and family unless that information is necessary for them to know.
Being a victim of identity theft can have negative repercussions for your child later on, so it is worth the effort to protect them from it as much as you can. As you would with your own information, be sure to be diligent about privacy and safekeeping of your child's personal information and documentation.