We tend to think of identity theft as a specifically adult problem- but a recent report found that more than 1 million American children were victims of identity theft in 2017.
In fact, children can be more vulnerable to fraud than adults. Their personal information is likely on file at school or the doctor's office, and they are growing up in a digital world where they are groomed to share sensitive details online with the click of a button. Fraud targeting a child can go undetected for several years because kids don't apply for jobs or loans, and they likely aren't requesting credit reports.
Prevention is the best way to address the problem of child identity theft. Start by educating your child about managing their online footprint and keeping personal information private. You also can go a step further by signing up for a credit monitoring service that includes child coverage.
But if anything looks amiss- such as traffic violations in your first grader's name or mysterious letters from debt collection agencies- it may be time to take further action. Here is a step-by-step guide to resolving your child's identity theft:
1. Request credit reports.
Contact all three national agencies to request a credit report in your child's name. These agencies include TransUnion
, and Equifax
. Keep clear records of your correspondence with each agency. If your child has a low credit score or even just recent activity then they have probably fallen victim to fraud.
2. Close fraudulent accounts.
Contact any company where you've found fraudulent activity and explain that your child's identity has been stolen. Request that they remove any accounts or account activity linked to your child's name or social security number, and offer proof
that your child is a minor.
3. Place a fraud alert.
This step does not cost you anything. You only have to contact one credit reporting agency to place a fraud alert- each company is required to notify the others. A fraud alert lasts 90 days and will prevent anyone from opening new credit in your child's name without first verifying identity.
4. Request a credit freeze.
A credit freeze restricts access to your child's credit reports and other personal information without impacting existing lines of credit. You'll have to contact each reporting agency
and you may have to pay up to $30 to place the freeze, but this step provides a valuable layer of protection on top of a fraud alert.
5. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
You can file your report online
and receive personalized recommendations for how to proceed in recovering your child's credit.
6. Contact any business where your child's identity was used.
The FTC offers a number of sample letters
for your reference as you deal with the fallout from this identity theft.
Use this experience as a learning opportunity for your whole family. Identity theft can happen to children, adults, and seniors alike. It's essential to educate all your loved ones (and yourselves) about ways to protect against fraud, especially in this increasingly digital society.