You may have considered identity protection measures for yourself. But how about for your children? Children can’t apply for credit on their own until they’re 18, and they likely have few financial assets. However, they do have valuable personal data fraudsters want.
A young person’s data identity is uniquely vulnerable because the fraud can go on for years if undetected. It may continue until they turn 18 or when they first try to apply for credit on their own. Children, like adults, can become victims of identity theft in a number of ways. It could be by having their data exposed in a breach or having their personal information fall into the hands of unethical family members or friends.
With a child’s personal information in hand, fraudsters may attempt a number of schemes. These can include opening up credit accounts, signing up for utility services and applying for government benefits under the child’s name.
These are challenging situations that no parent wants to deal with. But there are steps you can take to help your child recover from identity theft. Below we detail how to check if your child has been a victim of identity theft, outline what actions to take if they have and offer tips on how to protect their credit report.
How do I know if my child has been a victim of identity theft?
One clue is if you start seeing mail addressed to your child that’s normally intended for adults. For example, preapproved credit card promotions or other financial offers in their name should raise red flags of potential identity theft.
Another warning would be if your child is denied government benefits because their Social Security Number is tied to a benefit account already in use. If a benefits office denies your child services like nutrition (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and medical assistance services (Medicaid) for this reason, you’ll want to investigate potential identity theft.
Does my child have a credit report?
One way to help identify child identity theft is by examining their credit report, if they have one. If you’ve added your child as an authorized user on one of your credit accounts to help them build a credit history, they may already have a credit report. However, if they have a credit report but you never added them as an authorized user, it may be a sign of fraud.
To see if your child has a credit report on file with TransUnion, you can fill out our Child Identity Theft Inquiry form online. You’ll need to contact the other credit reporting agencies individually (Equifax and Experian) to see if they have credit reports on file as well.
If your child has a credit report as a result of fraudulent activity, there are steps you can take to report it and help them recover:
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and get an Identity Theft Report on their behalf.
- Notify your local law enforcement agency and ask them to provide a police report. The company or bank where the fraud occurred may request it as they resolve the account.
- Contact the companies related to the fraudulent activity and instruct them to close the account. Their contact information will be on the child’s credit report. Send them a letter that includes the FTC Identity Theft Report.
- Dispute the inquiries and accounts related to fraud with each credit reporting agency. For TransUnion, in addition to filling out the Child Identity Theft Inquiry, you’ll need to provide a copy of the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card (if you have one).
Responding to identity theft for a child is similar to that of an adult. You can learn more about recovery steps in our Fraud Companion Guide.
Additional steps to protect your child’s credit report
Beyond reporting the fraud to the FTC, companies and credit bureaus, there are other actions you can take to help protect your child. You may want to consider placing a credit freeze on your child’s credit report if they’ve been a victim of identity theft. With a credit freeze, lenders won’t be able to access their credit report, preventing new accounts from being opened in their name.
Even if your child does not have a credit report yet, you can still add a credit freeze as a layer of protection until they’re able to apply for credit on their own. If you request a credit freeze for a child who does not have a file already, TransUnion will create a credit file and then freeze it.
To place a freeze for a minor, you’ll need to submit a written request. As part of that process, you’ll supply supporting documents proving you have the authority to act on behalf of the minor or dependent. You’ll also need to prove your own identity.
A freeze for a minor is called a Protected Consumer Freeze. With this type of freeze, it’s either on or off, but can’t be temporarily lifted. To remove the freeze, you’ll need to mail in the request and documentation again. When the child turns 16, they can remove or add the credit freeze themselves by sending a letter with identifying information.
You can learn more about the documents required for the requests noted above and where to send the letters on our Credit Freeze support page.
Once they turn 18, your child will have access to what you may think of as a standard credit freeze, which offers more flexibility. They’ll be able to place and remove the freeze online and have the option to temporarily lift it for a specific time period when they apply for a credit or loan opportunity.
Of course, it’s important to remember if you place a freeze on your child’s credit report. If they need to apply for a loan later, you don’t want there to be any delays as you work through the process of removing the freeze. This is especially important as they consider funding for their education.
Make child identity theft prevention a habit
Think of identity theft prevention as a family protection habit. Consider the following tips:
- Only share your child’s personal information, especially sensitive data like their Social Security number, when absolutely necessary
- Store important documents in a secure location
- Taking action early to prevent or recover from identity theft on behalf of your child means they’ll be able to confidently and comfortably access future credit opportunities they deserve
As a parent, your top priority is protecting your child. By taking these steps, you can help safeguard them from identity theft and set them up for future financial stability. If you’re looking for more insights on this topic, check out our blog post on what to do if you become a victim of identity theft.