Concerned about identity theft? Be even more concerned for the young children in your life.
From cradle to college, kids under 18 are 51 times as likely to be victims of identity theft than their parents, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab. This alarming statistic is based on a sampling of some 40,000 children — and 10 percent already had their Social Security numbers being used fraudulently. “There’s no process to double-check what name and birth date are officially attached to each number,” reports CyLab. “As long as the identity thief has a Social Security number with a clean history, the thief can attach any name and date of birth to it” to create a false identity to use fraudulently.
And in the recent Anthem data breach, tens of millions of American children had that information stolen, along with health care account numbers.
There’s also social media, providing a helping hand for thieves to glean posted birth dates and other sensitive details from blabbermouth young ’uns. (The CyLab study notes that 69 percent of kids 2 to 5 years old could operate a computer mouse, yet only 17 percent could tie shoelaces.) Add into the tech mix weak passwords, frequent clicking of tempting attachments, and phishing programs specifically designed to extract a child’s credentials.
Child identity theft could continue for years undetected. Without credit cards, mortgages or utility bills to pay off, youngsters should have no credit file for reporting bureaus to monitor. But when the victims eventually apply for credit cards, student loans or a job, they may find that their credit is already ruined — and good credit can take years or decades to rebuild.
These warning signs indicate that child identity theft has already occurred or is in progress:
* Credit card and loan offers are addressed to the child.
* The child is denied a bank account, a driver’s license or government (or health insurance) benefits because the SSN has already been used.
* The IRS sends notices that the child didn’t pay income taxes or was claimed as a dependent on another tax return.
* The child is a target of debt-collection calls or bills.
* Law enforcement officials come to the door with a warrant to arrest the child.
If you think a child is at risk — or just want assurances — here’s what to do:
1. Check the child’s credit report. You want to hear that there’s no credit report on file under the child’s SSN; if a file exists but the child never applied for or was granted credit, assume the worst — and file a police report and complaint with the FTC. Each bureau has its own process for checking a minor’s report, but you’ll typically need to mail or fax documentation about the child — and that you are a parent or legal guardian. Click here for complete details of what’s required and contact information for each bureau.
2. If there is a credit file indicating identity theft, send a letter to credit bureaus asking to remove all accounts, inquiries 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. Also, contact businesses where the child’s information was misused.
3. Consider a freeze. If the child has a credit report, enact a credit freeze to restrict report access. Without seeing a credit report, creditors won’t approve new accounts. Only 19 states have laws requiring credit reporting agencies to allow a parent or guardian to freeze a child’s credit file: Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Recently, federal legislation was introduced to allow parents to set up credit freezes for a child in other states.
4. Be vigilant about vitals. Prevention pays off, so guard your child’s sensitive data as carefully as your own. That means not sharing or carrying a Social Security card (ask why it’s needed and whether alternative identification can be used), shredding documents with the child’s personal information before throwing them away, not posting sensitive details or even photos of the child online, and securely locking up Social Security cards, birth certificates and other sensitive documents.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network . You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.
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