Child identity theft
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), child ID theft happens when someone uses a minor’s personal information to commit fraud. A thief may steal and use a child’s information to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, a car loan or a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering and undoing the damage resulting from the theft can be a challenge. A thief who steals a child’s information may use it for years before the crime is discovered. The child victim may learn of ID theft only years later, when applying for credit, a job, an apartment or insurance.
Several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:
- Being turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number.
- A notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
- Collection calls or bills addressed to your child for products or services you didn’t receive.
- Your child is denied a bank account or driver’s license.
- Credit card and loan offers addressed to your child. *Don’t immediately panic if you receive a credit card offer in your child’s name. Financial companies sometimes mistakenly send credit card offers to a minor but be on alert if you suddenly start receiving a lot of mail that would typically be for adults.
Check for a Credit Report
If you think your child’s information is at risk, check whether your child has a credit report.
Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
Ask for a manual search of the child’s file. The companies will check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, and for files related only to the child’s Social Security number.
The credit reporting companies may require copies of:
- the child’s birth certificate listing parents
- the child’s Social Security card
- the parent or guardian’s government-issued identification card, like a driver’s license, or copies of documents proving the adult is the child’s legal guardian
- proof of address, like a utility bill, or credit card or insurance statement
Update your files.
- Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
- Keep copies of letters in your files.
Repair the Damage
Contact each Credit Reporting Company
If your child’s credit report shows the child’s information is being misused, call each credit reporting company. Ask each company to remove all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.
That company must tell the other two. A fraud alert is free and will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. You’ll get a letter from each credit bureau. It will confirm that they placed a fraud alert on your file.
- - Send a letter asking the companies to remove all accounts, inquires and collection notices associated with the child’s name or personal information.
- Explain that the child is a minor and include a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration [PDF].
Report identity theft to the FTC.
- Complete the online form at IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338. Include as many details as possible.
Based on the information you enter, IdentityTheft.gov will create your Identity Theft Report and recovery plan. Your identity theft report proves to businesses that someone stole your identity. It also guarantees you certain rights.
If you create an account, they will walk you through each recovery step, update your plan as needed, track your progress, and pre-fill forms and letters for you.
- Complete the FTC’s online complaint form. Give as many details as you can. The complaint form is not available on mobile devices, but you can call 1-877-438-4338 to make your report.
You can take steps to protect your child’s identity from misuse:
More than half of child identity fraud victims personally know the perpetrator. In contrast, only 7 percent of adult fraud victims know their victimizer. Many of these perpetrators have legitimate access to the personal information of victims, and children of any age are not safe. Two-thirds of child identity fraud victims are under the age of eight.
Most children have limited ability to act on their own behalf in securing their identity against fraud, guardians are often their first line of defense. The following recommendations can help reduce the risk, create detection timeline, and limit the impact of child identity fraud.
Limiting the Risks of Child Identity Theft.
- Start training children to protect their identity in the digital world when they are young. Early training for children to properly manage their online activity will instill habits invaluable in their adulthood, reducing their risk of victimization early and later in life.
- Pay special attention to children who may be bullied. There is a strong relationship between fraud and bullying. Children who are struggling with these issues may also be oversharing personal information in an anonymous environment.
- Check and freeze a child's credit. Establishing a credit freeze remains one of the most effective tools for preventing new accounts being opened in either a child or adult’s name. While there is no federal standard, many states permit parents or guardians to establish and freeze a minor’s credit.
- Actively monitor existing accounts. Combating child identity fraud requires guardians to proactively manage their child’s finances – regularly monitor activity, review statements online, and leverage account alerts, especially those that can be delivered to mobile devices.
- Keep physical documents secure. With familiar fraud especially prevalent among child identity fraud victims, protecting the personally identifiable information (PII) of children should be a priority for parents and guardians. This means keeping sensitive documents such as Social Security cards and birth certificates behind lock and key and out of reach of household visitors or residents.
- Take breach notifications and other correspondence seriously. Notification that a child’s PII has been breached should galvanize parents and guardians to start monitoring the child’s account for unauthorized activity. Account statements and collection notices addressed to children are a clear sign of trouble and should be followed up on immediately.
- Reach out for help. Overwhelmed parents and guardians of child identity fraud victims have a variety of resources available to help them restore their child’s identity. Those who require a significant degree of assistance with the resolution process can turn to identity protection providers, while directly contacting banks and credit bureaus is among the quickest routes to closing unauthorized accounts and clearing them from the victim’s credit history.
- Find a safe location for all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information
- Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
- Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
- Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, there’s an adult in your household who might want to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a security breach.
Laws safeguard your child and your family's personal information. For example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.
If you're a parent with a child who's enrolled in school:
- Find Out Who Has Access to Your Child’s Personal Information - Verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
- Pay Attention to Forms From School - Forms that ask for personal information may come home with your child, or you may get them through the mail or by email. Look for terms like "personally identifiable information," "directory information," and "opt-out." Find out how your child’s information will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.
- Read the Notices From Your Child’s School - Your school will send home an annual notice that explain explains your rights under FERPA, including your right to:
- inspect and review your child's education records;
- approve the disclosure of personal information in your child’s records; and
- ask to correct errors in the records.
- Ask Your Child’s School About its Directory Information Policy - Student directory information can include your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you want to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties, it’s best to put your request in writing and keep a copy for your files. If you don't opt-out, directory information may be available to the people in your child's class and school, and to the general public.
- Ask For a Copy of Your School’s Policy on Surveys - The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment gives you the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.
- Consider Other Programs That Take Place at the School - Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren't formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have web sites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations to find out if — and how — your child's information will be used and shared.
- Take Action if Your Child’s School Experiences a Data Breach - Your child’s school or the school district may notify you of a data breach. If not, and you believe your child's information has been compromised, contact the school to learn more. Talk with teachers, staff, or administrators about the incident and their practices. Keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board, if necessary.
- File a Complaint - You may file a written complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Contact the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20202-5920, and keep a copy for your records. Visit the Deparment's website to learn more about FERPA.
- When Your Child Turns 16 - It’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.