Imagine being in major debt before you can even vote. Such is the case for more than 400,000 children every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Although they account for only 5 percent of the total number of annual identity theft complaints, their number has climbed by 2 percent over the last two years. There may be even more child victims of identity theft since most parents don’t check their children’s credit histories. The Federal Trade Commission says that 61 percent of all identity thefts go unreported.
Since kids don’t have credit cards, mortgages, car payments, or anything else containing their personal information that could be shared with strangers, it might seem impossible for someone to steal their identity. However, what children do have is a Social Security number. If we’ve never met, never had the opportunity to see each other, and use email accounts, then it is feasible that I could use anyone’s number with a bogus name, address, and even age. Unfortunately, many credit issuers do not have the means to verify age.
Children are the ideal victims since it can be years before they or their parents realize the crime has been committed. Most only realize that they’ve been victimized later in life when they apply for their first credit card or a college loan, or undergo a credit check for their first apartment and are denied. Sometimes the perpetrators are estranged parents or relatives who have had previous access to vital information. The damage can take years to correct even if the victim is not liable.
There are seven simple steps you can take to keep your child’s identity safe: (1) Only disclose information if you know how it will be used; (2) shred any documents that bear his or her Social Security number; (3) ask your bank to require a photo ID and password for information; (4) get an annual credit report for your child; (5) check for credit card offerings made in your child’s name with the three major credit bureaus; (6) check for an earnings report in your child’s name from the Social Security Administration; and (7) always file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission if something is wrong.
It’s a sad commentary of the times we live in that someone would steal the identity of a kid. Fortunately, by being careful, we can minimize the problems that those who have no respect for our values—or the law—might cause.