Are My Children at Risk From Identity Theft?

Reading time: 3 minutes

Highlights:

  • Children can present a blank slate for fraudsters because they generally don't have credit reports
  • Use of a child's Social Security number for fraudulent purposes may not be detected for years
  • There are steps you can take to help better protect your children's information

Children can be vulnerable targets for identity theft, because those under the age of 18 typically do not have credit reports. 

That means children are often a blank slate for fraudsters who can apply for credit and take out loans in their name. Use of a child’s Social Security number for fraudulent purposes can go undetected for years, since parents may not check to see if their children have credit reports. It’s only later, when the child is a young adult and may be attempting to rent an apartment or get a credit card, that the identity theft is discovered.

Children’s information can also be used in what’s known as “synthetic identity theft.” This occurs when fake identities are created using information from different people or false information. It can also include real Social Security numbers. 

Identity thieves can also use children’s Social Security numbers to file a false tax return, or attempt to use it to claim a child who is not theirs on a tax return for tax credit purposes.

The thought of someone stealing your child’s identity can be frightening. But there are some steps you can take to help better protect their information.

Check your child’s credit reports

Start by checking to see if your child has a credit report. If they do, that may be a red flag indicating possible identity theft. If a credit report is found, inform the credit bureau it may be fraudulent. You may need to provide documents to credit bureaus to verify your child’s identity and your own.

Consider a free security freeze

Security freezes are one tool you can use to prevent access to your child’s credit reports. A credit report will be created for your child, then frozen. If you are the parent or legal guardian of a child under 16, you can place a security freeze on their credit reports. You’ll need to provide proof of your identity and theirs and proof that you are their parent or legal guardian. 

Security freezes must be placed separately with each of the three nationwide credit bureaus. 

Download the Equifax Minor Freeze Request Form for instructions on placing a security freeze, what documents you’ll need and the mailing address. You can also contact Experian and TransUnion

Consider a credit monitoring product

You can look for a credit monitoring product that allows you to add children and monitors their credit reports for activity. Some products may allow you to lock or unlock your child’s credit report

Keep your child’s documents in a safe place

This includes your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate, medical insurance card, any legal documents and his or her passport. 

Don’t share your child’s personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary

Ask whether your child’s doctor needs his or her Social Security number, or if you could provide the last four digits. If you must provide it to his or her school, ask how the information will be protected and who can access it.

Educate your children about online behavior

As your child grows older, educate him or her about online privacy and security, and set rules for what information cannot be shared online. Talk to them about how to politely refuse when asked to share personal information online or in person. You can also help them set strong passwords on accounts and devices.

If your child is a victim of identity theft

If your child’s identity has been stolen, here are some steps you can take:

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the ID theft and get a recovery plan.
  • Contact your local law enforcement and get a police report.
  • Contact the fraud departments of companies where accounts were opened in your child’s name. Ask them to close the account and send you a letter of confirmation. You may need to provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate and a police report.
  • Contact the nationwide credit bureaus to alert them to the fraudulent activity. 

The FTC recommends checking to see if your child has a credit report as his or her 16th birthday nears. If there is a credit report, you may have time to address the situation before your child is applying for a job, an apartment or a vehicle loan.