An estimated 140,000 children’s identities are stolen every year, according to a 2010 study by ID Analytics, a San Diego consumer risk management firm. Overall, more than 11.6 million American adults were victims of identity fraud last year, a 13 percent increase over 2010, according to a recent Javelin Strategy & Research report.
“Parents always think, ‘My kid has $8 in his piggy bank. What could possibly go wrong?’ ” said Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer with McAfee Inc., a computer security company. “We don’t think that someone could steal their identity and use it to buy a gun license, steal health records, acquire credit cards, take out large mortgages.”
Perpetrators can be anyone: criminals lurking online, illegal immigrants needing a valid ID or even what Dennedy calls “friendly fire”: parents with ruined credit who steal their own kids’ Social Security numbers to open accounts. The latter, she said, is “a sad practice, but it’s more common than you think.”
Sometimes, it can be an honest error. Dennedy recalls the case of a 4-year-old whose parents discovered he had a lengthy credit record going back 40 years. The culprit? An elderly woman who had unknowingly transposed part of her Social Security number and used it for decades, for mortgages, credit cards and other financial accounts.
What are possible signs your child might be an identity theft target? Debt collection calls to your home or suspicious mail, such as bills or credit card applications, in your child’s name.
But they’re not always an indication of fraud. Credit card applications, for instance, might come from a bank where your child has a savings account.
What can parents do?
Above all, be stingy about giving out your child’s Social Security number, whether it’s for school, sports, Scouts or church.
“Push back on that. Question why it’s asked for,” said Dennedy. “Just like you wouldn’t throw a couple of dollars on the street, you don’t throw extra pieces of information (about your child) out there.”
Another option is credit monitoring services, which are sold by many banks, credit reporting bureaus and online security companies like McAfee and others. They offer, for instance, to alert you when someone is trying to open an account in your name.
They can bring peace of mind, but not all of them may be worth the fees, according to a study released in February 2012 by Consumer Reports.
In 2010, about 50 million consumers bought ID theft protection, paying $150 to $300 a year for services that may be “questionable,” said Consumer Reports. The magazine’s advice: “Take the (identity) threat seriously, but don’t panic.”
Most minors under 18 will not have a credit history unless someone has used their Social Security number to fraudulently open an account or take out a loan.
The best way to check if your son or daughter has been targeted is to request a credit report by contacting each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
TransUnion has an online request form for parents or guardians to fill out. Experian asks for such parent requests in writing. In both cases, they require the child’s Social Security number, birth date and parent’s ID.
When parents uncover a fraudulent account, they can follow procedures to clear the child’s credit history.
Generally, a good time to check is when your son or daughter is 16 or 17 and nearing high school graduation. They might be applying for college or scholarships, renting an apartment or buying a car, all of which can require a credit history.
Parents can also do the obvious: Keep computers password-protected. Shred documents that carry financial information and teach your kids to never give out information with their name, address, date of birth, phone and Social Security number, especially on social networking sites.
How-to sources on children’s identity theft:
How to contact the three credit reporting bureaus:
â€¢ Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
â€¢ Experian: 1-888-397-3742
â€¢ TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
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