The face of identity theft victims is changing quickly as thieves have begun to prey on young children with flawless credit. Parents must take steps now to protect their kids from the potential for future financial trouble.
While the majority of kids spend most of their time worrying about homework, friends and what’s for dinner, nearly 500,000 youngsters each year must worry about how they’ll repair their shattered credit. In a disturbing trend, childhood identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, with 5% of identity theft victims now under the age of 18. For these minor victims, the average amount of fraudulent debt racked up by thieves is nearly $13,000. This means that even before their first student loan, car loan or credit card, half a million kids are in serious debt – and they may not even know it.
Unfortunately, children make easy and ideal targets for identity thieves. All too often, the culprit is a parent, guardian or other individual who has ready access to the child’s information, such as a social security number. In the age of social networking, kids may also naïvely reveal a bit too much detail on sites such as MySpace or Facebook, giving thieves just enough information to assume the child’s identity and use it for nefarious purposes.
Once the identity is stolen, a child’s unblemished credit history makes it especially easy to gain credit in the minor’s name. And, because it will likely be years before the child will attempt to legitimately establish credit, the theft can actually go undetected for quite some time, making it difficult to investigate and prosecute.
Unaware of the risks of childhood identity theft, many parents who may even keep good track of their own credit, rarely check to see if their children have credit reports – a telltale sign that a theft has occurred. Meanwhile, 42% of children found to have erroneous credit reports had credit files with only one credit bureau, meaning the identity theft would have gone undetected if all three credit bureaus had not been checked.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps parents can take to protect their children from identity thieves before it’s too late.
First, attempt to request a credit report for your child. You should find that none exists. However, if one does, it means that someone may have attempted to gain credit using your child’s social security number and you should follow up accordingly. Start by implementing a Minor Alert that stops any third-party from accessing your child’s credit report.
Then, take the same precautions for your children as you would for yourself: shred all documents with personal ID information before throwing them out; keep personal information in a secure location inside your home; do not carry your child’s social security card in your wallet; be cautious about sharing personal information with others, such as schools, coaches, and other officials; teach your children not to give out personal information to anyone without your permission and be especially careful online.
Finally, consider an identity theft prevention solution that offers a comprehensive family plan to provide ID theft protection to minor children, in addition to the adults.
Image credit: John Evans
Scott Mittic is an accomplished entrepreneur and national expert on identity theft and consumer credit issues. As CEO of TrustedID, Scott leads the creation of innovative new solutions that effectively eliminate the most dangerous and costly forms of identity theft.