Protecting your personal information may have always been top of mind for you but in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach — in which hackers exposed as many as 145.5 million people to identity theft — it has taken on a new sense of urgency.
While we tend to focus on the adults, Equifax didn’t specify how many of those affected by the hack were minors. Children’s personal data have become hot items for thieves. A child’s Social Security number is especially appealing to crooks because the digits are clean – meaning no credit card debt, no loans, etc. — and could be tapped for untold thousands of dollars before anyone finds out.
The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces antitrust law and consumer protection, advises that parents check for credit reports in their children’s names to see if their information is being used.
3 warning signs that your child’s ID may have been compromised
The agency lists on its website three warning signals that could tip parents off to whether their child’s personal information has been stolen.
- If you or your child is turned down for government benefits because another account is using your child’s Social Security number
- If your child gets a notice from the Internal Revenue Service saying that their SSN is being used on another return or that they owe income taxes
- If you get bills for products or services you didn’t receive or if a debt collector calls and asks for your child
Parents who think their child is at risk for identity fraud will need to contact all three of the major credit-reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and ask for a “manual search” of the child’s name, the FTC says.
To verify your identity and that of the child, the agencies is going to ask for some personal data as well, such as the child’s Social Security card and birth certificate listing the parents’ names.
If the agencies find evidence of suspicious activity on your child’s credit, tell them to remove all accounts, associated inquiries and collection notices from any files that have your child’s name and SSN on it.
Taking the above step is crucial to a fraud ID case as it cuts off the spigot of data connected to your child and allows the credit-reporting agencies to begin the process of assessing the damage. Unfortunately, as a parent of an ID theft victim, your responsibilities aren’t over after this step.
Next, you’ll need to contact all the businesses that showed up in the data gleaned from the credit reports and ask the companies to close your child’s account and flag it as a case of identity fraud.
Here’s the #1 way to stop child identity theft
You’ll also want to ensure that something like this never happens again. The main way to do this, money expert Clark Howard says, is to put a credit freeze in place for your child.
“Child identity theft is one of the worst forms of fraud because it often goes unchecked and unnoticed for years,” he writes. “Then, when your kid goes off to college, suddenly he or she can’t get loans or qualify under FAFSA because supposedly they’re 37 years old and defaulted on a mortgage!”
Clark says that Equifax and Experian allow credit freezes for children in all 50 states, while TransUnion only allows it in states that have specifically passed laws on it. Learn more about how TransUnion handles child ID theft here.
The FTC says you’ll also want to get each company to put a fraud alert on your child’s account.