Saturday, 18 September 2021

The Curious Case of Child Identity Theft: Save your Kids now!

The Curious Case of Child Identity Theft: Save your Kids now!
16 Oct

It’s just another Thursday at our place, and I get a phone call from some collection agency.

The representative says that Mike, my son has racked up a mind-boggling $46,000 worth of debt– he bought a 50-inch curved TV, an uber-cool drone (which was in my wish-list, by the way) and a used hatchback car too!

The agency needed answers from me, for his debts were way overdue. To be frank, I was proud of my son for a moment, and then I looked at him, merrily eating dirt in our lawn.

Mike turned 3 years old this September. It was that moment I realized; my son is a victim of Identity theft!

Child Identity Theft decoded!

Child identity theft occurs when a child’s identity is used by another person for the imposter’s personal gain. Just like regular identity theft, this can severely damage the victim’s credit score.

Getting hold of a minor’s personal information like Date of Birth and Social Security Number (SSN), it is as easy as one two three for an identity thief to apply for credit cards, bank accounts, loans, government benefits and a job too!

From infants to toddlers (my own Mike) to Middle-school children, anyone can be a victim of child identity theft. So the question that fuels up in every parent’s mind is- “How to protect your child from identity theft?”

Before answering that question, let’s look at the two major reasons why identity thieves hit below the belt and steal the identity of small children;

  1. A child’s Social Security Number is clean as a whistle; they have no credit score which is a goldmine for thieves with terrible credit scores. They can use a clean slate to procure benefits which otherwise would’ve been out of their reach.
  2. Your little ones would figure it out when it’s too late, and their adult life would start off at the maximum difficulty level of bad credit scores, denied credit card applications, and high student loan APRs.

Now that we have a brief idea about why they do it, let’s figure out how they do it.

How do they do it?

As stated before, all that the bad guys need is your child’s Social Security Number and Date of Birth. Now think about it- Who has all this information, any takers? Your child’s school? That Social Security Number you jotted down at the baby-doc’s office? Aunt Shirley, who’s drowning in debt?

Let’s see how it happens, so that you keep these in mind and know how to protect your child from identity theft:

1. It’s in the Papers

Think about it- at how many places have you submitted your kid’s birth certificate? Almost every piece of paperwork has a blank for your child’s Social Security Number and Date of Birth, and it’s not even relevant at most of those places.

These fraudsters pounce on any given opportunity they can find to get hands on those sheets of paper. If forms aren’t shredded properly before disposal, it can also be found in recycling bins by thieves. To defend against these risks, be judicious about what you write on forms.

2. Runs in the Family

“The biggest crimes take place right under your nose”, there’s some truth in that. At most times, these ‘bad guys’ are our relatives and close family, it’s just that we don’t think on that tangent until law enforcement interferes.

Even parents are sometimes tempted to put their children’s names and Social Security Numbers on account applications if their own credit is bad. To prevent a relative from exploiting your child’s identity, keep those sensitive documents under lock and key, just like your own.

3. Hacked!

If you’re looking for ways to protect your child from identity theft, this is one dynamic you can’t do anything about. Hacking is a worldwide virtual plague from which there’s no escape. Once your data is online- it’s all exposed, as simple as that.

The answer for ‘how to protect your child from identity theft’ cannot be cutting the LAN cable. The internet is an indispensable part of our lives and your child’s school records are on the online database too, which includes the Social Security Number.

How Child Identity Theft Is Usually Discovered?

It’s the parents who are generally the first ones to know about their child’s ID-theft jitters. But when they get to know it, it’s already too late.

Shockingly, by and large, the parent doesn’t understand what’s occurred until the point that their child is nearly grown.

It might be too late to learn how to protect your child from identity theft you these warning bells start ringing:

  • Collection agencies phoning in to collect unknown debts in the child’s name.
  • An application for a car loan or something is rejected due to poor credit.
  • Your child couldn’t get a driver’s license because a driver’s license with their name and SSN already exists.
  • The youth is denied employment without explanation.
  • The youth is sought by the police for unknown crimes.

These are some serious consequences, we know. One can never be too careful when filling out forms with information as crucial as Social Security Number. So yeah, if you received a call as I did, better take an action before something worse goes down.

What to Do When You Discover the Identity Theft

If you’re learning how to protect your child from identity theft, remember that it’s never too late. If you’ve just discovered that your child is a victim of identity theft, it’s important to take those countermeasures ASAP. You can repair that credit score later, here’s what to do first:

  • Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting agencies. Call any of ‘em up ASAP and ask them to put a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. You put a fraud alert on through one agency, and it’ll definitely contact the other two. A fraud alert requires the holder to verify his/her identity when s/he requests a credit of any sort on that Social Security Number.
  • Freeze your child’s credit report, after this no one (not even your child) would be able to open a bank account until you un-freeze it.
  • Request a copy of your child’s credit report. A number of companies, like Credit Sesame, offer free credit score reports. Check your credit score here.
  • If you can locate those businesses where the child’s info was being used, call them up and cancel your accounts ASAP. This will stop any further charges.
  • Create an identity theft report. This is something that would really help your kid in repairing his/her credit along with serving as an official report of the crime.

Prevention is better than cure!

Enough of beating around the bush- time to know how to protect your child from identity theft. Here are some things to keep a check on to make sure there are no cracks left for the bad guys to steal your little one’s identity.

  • Keep a check on those warning signs- any shady emails to your kid from debt-collecting agencies or phone calls from loan-providers at your landline mean that something’s up. Get to work ASAP.
  • Do not carry your child’s Social Security card on you. Keep it in a safe place, under lock and key, and memorize the number for when you may need it.
  • If someone asks you for your child’s Social Security Number, Ask why! Most of the time when someone asks for it, it’s nothing more than a blank on form and they don’t really need it. If they do, ask them if there’s an alternative ID that might work.
  • Check your child’s credit score periodically, just to be sure that there’s nothing fishy going on. If periodically is too much work, check once s/he reaches his/her teens because it’s going to be put to use real soon.
  • If possible, put a freeze on your kids’ credit accounts as soon as they have a Social Security number. But freezing the accounts isn’t legal in every state; only 29 states allow parents to put freezes on their children’s credit.

At last, don’t live your life in fear that your child’s identity is going to be stolen! Just take some small preventive steps, don’t be too careless (don’t be too skeptical too), and you don’t need to specifically worry about how to protect your child from identity theft, you’ve done enough!


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