Children are assigned Social Security numbers, often just a few months after birth. Family members, friends and strangers can use this number to commit identity theft -- to use the identifying information without the child's or parents' knowledge or permission to open credit accounts or commit other crimes. Finding a bill addressed to your 12-year-old might be the first hint that he is a victim. Strange mail sent to your child might push you to look for answers, but you also can take precautions to protect your child before anything happens.
A child is a good prospect for identity theft. People with bad credit can use a child's good name and lack of credit history instead of their own bad credit. Because parents are unlikely to monitor the use of a child's identifying information, it can take a while for the crime to surface. Young people often put themselves at risk for identity theft when they reveal personal information online. A child whose identity is stolen faces having to repair ruined credit and correct public records.
If you suspect your child is a victim of identity theft, run credit reports in her name with the three credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Check with the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. Red flags to look for include notifications that your child's Social Security number is being used to receive government benefits or to file a return. Suspect identity theft if an IRS letter in your child's name says she has not filed a tax return or paid her taxes. Look for mail addressed to your child from collection agencies or credit card companies. Denial of benefits or other services could point to identity theft.
Report and Contact
Act quickly if your suspicions are correct. Respond to letters from government agencies, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration, and inform them of the problem. The agencies will place a fraud hold on your child's Social Security number. File a police report and get a report number. Follow up with an online or telephone complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Call 877-438-4338 to reach the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline. Report the crime to the credit reporting agencies, and request credit reports and a fraud hold. Contact creditors to report the crime and to close accounts in your child's name.
Protect and Monitor
Ask the credit reporting agencies about a credit freeze to protect against further identity theft. Carefully consider requests for your child's identifying information, even addresses and birth dates, and ask about security measures. Explain to your child how to keep his information private, especially teenagers who might have more need to share the information. Request a credit report when your child turns 16, the FTC says, and use the credit report to make sure there has been no identity theft and to correct errors the report might contain before your child opens a bank account, applies for a job or attends college.