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The Money Mom: Protecting Your Child’s Identity

iStock_000003397057XSmallMost parents don’t realize it, but one in ten children today have their identities used or abused in some way. In fact, child identity theft is one of the fastest growing segments of the crime.

You’re probably thinking that your child doesn’t have much of an identity to steal, at least not financially speaking. And you may be wondering how thieves get their hands on children’s information in the first place – after all, young children don’t often shop online, at least not with their own credit cards, and they don’t use email the way adults do. But aside from the fact that children are increasingly joining social networking sites like Facebook, which can be a hot bed for scams, you have to remember that your child has a Social Security number and card, which can easily be stolen. Add that to the fact that about a third of identity theft is perpetrated by friends or family members, and your kids are at risk.

So what, then, do you do about it? First of all, guard kids’ Social Security numbers as securely as you do your own, and if your children use email or social networking sites or even online chat services, talk to them about the dangers involved in responding to or friending people they don’t know.

If you suspect that your child has been victimized, you can check his or her credit by writing to the three major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – and asking them if there is a file with your child’s Social Security number on it. It’s possible that you’ll be asked to send in a copy of your child’s birth certificate or other information that confirms his identity, and that’s okay.

If a credit report is discovered under your child’s number, that likely means something fishy is going on. Inform the bureaus that it is a fraudulent file, in writing, and keep a paper trail, including notes of who you speak to if you communicate by phone as well as mail. All three bureaus should automatically add a fraud alert to the file – follow up to make sure that happens.

At that point, you can head to your local Social Security office and ask if anyone is working under your child’s Social Security number. You have the right to ask that, and if the answer is yes, have the administration issue a new number for your child. File a report with your local police department as well.

Once you have that new Social Security number, it’s back to square one. He can start fresh, and the credit reporting bureaus will wipe the old number out, if it was active, so it can no longer be used. If you can, you want to get all of this taken care of by the time your child turns 16; otherwise, he’s getting close to college and private student loans, if they’re needed, will rely on the student’s credit history. The process of wiping out the old number and starting fresh can take a couple of years, so give yourself some room.

Even if you haven’t had any of these issues in your house, you should still be aware of signs. Here are a few of the most common indicators that someone could be using your child’s identity:

Pre-approved credit applications sent to your child.

Bills or bank statements mailed to your child’s name for accounts that aren’t his.

Calls or letters from debt collectors.

Denial of a driver’s license. This could mean that another person already has a license under that Social Security number.

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