As a parent, you want to protect your child from all of life’s perils. While you might be on the lookout for bullies and strangers, fraud and identity theft might not be on your radar.…
As a parent, you want to protect your child from all of life’s perils. While you might be on the lookout for bullies and strangers, fraud and identity theft might not be on your radar. But they should be.
“Risk is part of parenting,” says Trevor Buxton, certified fraud examiner and assistant vice president at PNC Bank. Fortunately, some threats can be avoided by taking precautions — and that includes identity theft.
Unfortunately, children are an easy target of credit fraud and identity theft. But by regularly checking if they have credit reports in their name, you can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and stop it before the problem gets out of hand.
The Growing Problem of Child Identity Theft
More than 1 million children were identity fraud victims in 2017, according to estimates in a 2018 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. Two-thirds of the victims were younger than 8.
According to Buxton, identity theft that goes undetected can wreak havoc on your children’s credit and even leave them with massive debt before they’ve even reached voting age. He says that all identity thieves need is a Social Security number, which they can use along with a different name, address and birthday to apply for credit. This, Buxton says, is called a synthetic identity, which can often go undetected until a child turns 18. Using the synthetic identity, criminals can apply for accounts using your child’s personal information.
Buxton says one of the biggest warning signs that your child may be a victim of identity theft is if he or she receives offers in the mail for credit cards or loans. Other red flags include:
— Receiving notice from the IRS that your child owes unpaid taxes or that your child’s Social Security number was listed on another tax return.
— Receiving collection calls for a debt in your child’s name.
— Receiving bills for products or services in your child’s name that you didn’t order.
— Being declined for government benefits under your child’s Social Security number.
How to Check Your Child’s Credit Report
You should request your child’s credit report from each of the three credit bureaus if you suspect fraud or identity theft. Checking his or her credit report will require a manual search for files related to your child’s name or Social Security number. You may be required to furnish a birth or adoption certificate, Social Security card, your government-issued identification card or proof of address.
Children younger than 13 should not have a file with any of the three credit bureaus, according to Leslie Tayne, debt resolution attorney and founder and managing director of Tayne Law Group. If any of the credit bureaus do have a file on your child, and you didn’t add them as an authorized user on a credit card or make them a joint account holder, that’s a sure sign of suspicious activity.
Because each credit bureau collects and reports credit information independently, the process for requesting a minor’s report varies. Here’s how to check for your child’s credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus if your child is younger than 13:
Experian. There are two ways to find out if your child has a credit report with Experian. The first is to use Experian’s Child ID Scan service, which is free. You start by signing up for an Experian account and verifying your identity. The next step is to add your child’s personal information. Experian will perform a scan using your child’s Social Security number and find out if it has any information on file. Finally, you can view the Child ID Scan report securely via Experian’s website.
Alternatively, you can check for your child’s credit report by submitting a written request and supporting documents to Experian via mail or Experian’s site. You can find the official form on its website. You should include:
— A copy of your government-issued ID, such as a state ID card or driver’s license.
— A copy of a bank statement or utility bill for proof of address.
— A list of any previous addresses where you’ve lived in the past two years.
— A copy of your child’s birth certificate with his or her full name, including middle initial and suffix.
— A copy of your child’s Social Security card.
Equifax. To find out if your child has a credit report with Equifax and to request a copy, you’ll need to contact the Minor Child Department in writing. Equifax requires that you submit:
— A letter of explanation detailing why you believe your child’s personal information was obtained or used fraudulently.
— A copy of your child’s birth certificate.
— Documentation of your child’s Social Security number.
— A copy of your driver’s license or state-issued ID as proof of your current address.
And if you’re not the parent, you must submit documents showing you have the legal authority to act on behalf of the child. Equifax recommends enlarging copies of any items that have small print, such as your driver’s license, to prevent any delays in processing. If any of your photocopies are difficult to read, Equifax will ask you to resubmit your request with documents that are legible.
TransUnion. To check for a TransUnion credit report for your child, you can either email email@example.com or use its secure form to provide details about your request. However, TransUnion warns parents not to send sensitive account information via email, as it could fall into the wrong hands.
According to TransUnion, the more detailed the information you provide, the better, since it will allow for a more thorough investigation. It will only use the information you provide to conduct the investigation and will never include it in any return correspondence to you.
Once TransUnion completes the investigation, it will let you know if your child has a credit report. If so, TransUnion will request additional information from you so it can remedy the situation.
Checking the Credit of a Child Who Is 13 or Older
Children 13 and older can check their credit the same way adults do. By visiting AnnualCreditReport.com — the only website federally authorized to provide credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion for free — your child can enter his or her personal information to receive a copy of each report.
Keep in mind that you can only request a free copy of each credit report once every 12 months. Rather than requesting all three at once, many consumers find it helpful to spread requests out over the year. For example, they may pull their Experian report in January, their Equifax report in May and their TransUnion report in October to keep tabs on their credit throughout the year.
What to Do If You Encounter Fraud
“If you suspect suspicious activity, alert all three bureaus right away,” Tayne says. You may also want to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
One option is to place a freeze on your child’s credit. A credit freeze makes it impossible to open any new line of credit under your child’s name, unless the freeze is lifted.
Similar to requesting your child’s credit report, you have to go to each bureau to initiate a freeze. The good news is, thanks to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, credit bureaus are required to provide credit freezes at no cost. They’re also required to implement the freeze by the following business day, as well as lift the freeze within one hour when requested over the phone or online. Parents can place a freeze on the credit files belonging to children younger than 16. Older teens can freeze their own credit.
— Keep your child’s Social Security card secure. Buxton says you should never carry your child’s Social Security card with you. Keep it, as well as your own card, in a safe place, such as a fireproof lock box or safe deposit box at the bank.
— Limit who has access to your child’s data. It’s easy for your child’s information to be stolen at school, the doctor’s office and other places where personally identifying information, like Social Security numbers, changes hands. If possible, opt out of providing any information that isn’t critical and use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
— Shred everything. Before discarding any documents that contain your child’s sensitive personal information, shred them, just as you would your own, says Buxton.