Children are especially vulnerable to identity theft for one reason: If their identity is stolen it might take years for anyone to figure it out.
Most adults become aware of identity theft pretty quickly – we check out bank balances, our credit card statements, and our credit reports. When we do find that someone has been using our personal information (as I recently did), we take the necessary steps to cancel our accounts, and stop the theft.
The problem with children and identity theft is that it may never be detected until the child goes to apply for his / her first loan – which could be years after their identity was first stolen.
There are three types of identity theft to watch out for:
Standard Identity Theft: This is a situation where the thief obtains your child’s information and uses it to get loans, credit cards, and bank accounts.
Criminal Identity Theft: This occurs when the thief uses a child’s identity to obtain a driver’s license, and then they use that identity when the commit a crime, or get caught committing a crime.
Identity Cloning - This happens when someone purchases your child’s information and uses it to establish a new identity for themselves. The most common example of this is illegal aliens using the child’s information to establish citizenship so that they can work, get loans, and operate as a natural-born citizen.
So, how can you tell if your child’s identity has been stolen?
In a worst case scenario, your child will find out that their identity has been stolen by having bills sent to them, having an arrest warrant, being turned down for a loan, fired from a job, or denied employment because of a “criminal record”. The best thing though, is not to let it get to that point.
The easiest way to keep tabs on your child’s identity is to check their credit reports just like you check your own. Since the credit bureaus do not “knowingly keep records on children under 13″ the best thing that you can have happen is to be told that there is no report on file. You can find a sample letter here that you can print out and send to the three main credit bureaus to check on the state of your child’s credit report.
If your child does have an active credit report, then that is a sure sign of identity theft. If that is the case, you will want to treat it just as if your own identity had been stolen:
Get copies of all three of their credit reports - You will need copies of their report form TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Freeze all three of their credit reports - any time there is an identity theft situation, freezing your credit report is free. Do not simply place a fraud alert on their report, because some banks will still issue loans even with a fraud alert on the credit report. Make sure you freeze the reports themselves. Freezing a credit report means that lenders cannot access the report or score, and it will effectively stop the identity thief form opening p new accounts in your child’s name.
File a police report - this will make getting the various accounts closed easier for you. Some companies will want the information on the police report when they close the accounts. It will also help you waive the usual fees since most companies – including the credit bureaus- offer free services in case of an identity theft situation.
Contact any companies listed on your child’s credit report - Explain to them that you are the parent of a minor, and that their identity has been used to open up an account with them. Make sure you negotiate not only to close the unauthorized account, but also to have the accounts information completely removed from your child’s credit report.
Check your child’s criminal records - You can check with the FBI and your local police department. Find out how to check criminal records. It’s a short article that tells you what you need to know.
Follow up - From that point on, pull your child’s credit reports each year to check for new activity. Keep their credit files frozen until they come of age and want to start building their own credit. Stopping a single case of identity theft does not mean that the criminal won’t sell your child’s information, so do make sure that you keep their reports frozen, and keep tabs on any activity until your child is ready to do that on their own.
Identity theft is a scary situation, it’s a real violation, especially when it happens to a child. Thankfully, we have enough laws in place, and enough ways to combat identity theft that if it does happen to you or your child, you just have to take the necessary steps to stop it.
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