You most likely know that it’s important to order and review your credit report each year. However, what you might not be aware of is that if you have children, you should also check their credit. The sad reality is that no one is immune from identity theft, not even children. The only thing ID thieves are concerned with is getting personal financial information — anyone’s information — so they can open accounts and make fraudulent purchases in order to support their lifestyle.
The Federal Trade Commission warns that a child’s Social Security number can be used to apply for government benefits, open bank accounts, apply for a loan, or rent a new apartment. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network revealed that identity theft was the top complaint category for 2014.
Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com and author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, spoke with The Cheat Sheet to tell us more about child identity theft and some of the warning signs to watch out for.
The Cheat Sheet: Why is it important to check your child’s credit?
Gerri Detweiler: When my daughter was still in elementary school, her Social Security number was published online. This sensitive information (along with her classmates’) was leaked in conjunction with the results of a standardized test. More recently, we learned that she was a victim of the massive Anthem data breach. Although she’s still in high school and has just started using credit as an authorized user on one of my cards, her personal information is available to who-knows-whom because of these incidents. The warning to parents is this: It is not enough to monitor your own credit and personal information. You should be monitoring your children’s as well.
CS: What are some signs of child ID theft?
GD: Credit card offers in the mail or calls from creditors or debt collectors would be two red flags that a parent should investigate. But keep in mind that oftentimes this fraud is not detected until the child is an adult and tries to apply for credit. A young child is often at greatest risk because it will typically be years before the misuse is detected.
Also keep in mind that a significant number of victims know their perpetrator. Unfortunately parents, relatives, or caregivers sometimes “borrow” their child’s information to get credit, utility services, or even driver’s licenses because they can’t qualify themselves.
CS: What should you do if you think your child might have a credit report?
GD: First, you have to find out if they have one. Unfortunately AnnualCreditReport.com doesn’t make it clear how to order a copy of a child’s credit report, so you’ll likely need to contact each of the credit reporting agencies directly and provide additional information (such as a copy of a birth certificate and/or Social Security card) with your request. Details can be found here.
CS: Can you change your child’s Social Security number if he or she has had their identity stolen?
GD: It’s not easy to change a Social Security number, and not usually recommended except in the most extreme cases, because it can create additional complications. If your child is a victim, you can request a fraud alert or freeze to be placed on his or her credit reports. A fraud alert will tell companies that purchase the credit report to investigate before extending credit, while a freeze will lock it down. If your child is a victim it may be worth subscribing to a monitoring service that monitors multiple databases for possible signs of misuse. It’s not just credit reports that are a concern here: the victim’s information can be used for a variety of purposes.