Child Identity Theft: All There Is to Know to Protect Your Children

If you have children, you most probably have a lot on your mind. Keep calm and make sure you add child identity theft prevention to this mix.
Child ID Theft

Did you know identity thieves can steal the Social Security numbers of children? These crimes can go on for years without anyone noticing – until it’s far too late. In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about child identity theft and what parents can do to stop it.

What’s Child Identity Theft?

“Can someone steal my child’s identity?” Yes, and it’s a lot more common than you think. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), child ID theft refers to a child’s Social Security number being compromised and misused for fraudulent purposes, such as financial gain.

Child ID Theft Statistics

A Javelin Strategy and Research report found that more than 1 million kids a year could have their identities stolen. The collective damages of annual child ID theft, the report estimates, may exceed $2.6 billion and $540 million in out-of-pocket costs to families.

Is My Child at Risk?

We’ve analysed the stats collected by Javelin and other researchers to distinguish the groups of children that are more vulnerable to identity theft. Read on to see which factors increase the risk:

  • Age: Among minors, children under the age of 7 are targeted most often. This age range makes up two-thirds of all child identity fraud victims. Making matters worse, children are the most vulnerable population because they cannot defend their identities, and because it’s atypical for parents to ever request the credit reports of their children. This means warning signs can go unnoticed for years.

  • Lack of Awareness about Online Threats: A key vulnerability among children is a lack of knowledge concerning online safety. A Kaspersky report reveals that parents around the world are worried about their children’s online privacy but simply don’t spend enough time teaching them safe internet behaviors. On average, parents spend 46 minutes talking about internet threats — across a child’s entire childhood.

  • Experience of Being Bullied and Violated: The Javelin report found a shocking correlation between children who are bullied and those who become victims of identity theft. Bullied children are nine times more likely to be victims of fraud than those who are not. The researchers state that while fraud and bullying aren’t perpetrated by the same individuals, they may be fueled by the same vulnerabilities.

  • Being in Foster Care: Children in foster care may be at an elevated risk for identity theft, particularly because their personal information is routinely handled by multiple agencies and adults. The foster system can also make it more difficult to identify warning signs of child ID theft — without a permanent address, suspicious financial notices may not make it to adults, and because the child’s information is stored in so many locations, it may be more susceptible to being compromised.

How Does Child Identity Theft Happen?

The process of stealing a child’s identity is similar to stealing the identity of an adult. By and large, it starts with a compromised Social Security number with which bad actors can open new bank accounts and credit cards, apply for government benefits, steal tax refunds, or commit other acts of fraud.

The big difference is that child identity theft can remain undisclosed for decades. Often, it isn’t until children are old enough to start jobs or open bank accounts that they realize their credit is ruined and that their identity has been misused for years.

There’s no shortage of ways that this can happen. Perpetrators can commit child ID theft by:

  • Conducting or exploiting breaches in the school or foster care system
  • Stealing personal documents from the mail
  • Leveraging sensitive family information found on people-search sites
  • Social engineering parents or children online and over the phone.

The Signs of Child ID Theft

If you’re suspicious that your child’s identity may have been stolen, it’s crucial that you act quickly. We’ve put together a list of some of the biggest tells of child ID theft.

  • Account Statements in Your Child’s Name: This is a clear sign of child ID theft. If you’re receiving bank statements or collection notices in the mail under your child’s name, continue looking for signs of other fraudulent activities. Then, report it and begin clearing your child’s name.

  • Strange Activity in Your Child’s Credit Report: The FTC says checking your child’s credit history is one of the most effective ways to spot identity theft. If you see strange accounts being opened or unusual derogatory marks, your child may be a victim of fraud.

  • Government Benefits Denial:  your child is turned down for government benefits because someone else is using their Social Security number to get the benefits paid to another account.

  • Notices from the IRS saying that your child’s taxes are delinquent, or that their Social Security number was used on another tax return.

  • Calls from collection agencies and bills for products or services you didn’t receive addressed to your child.

How to Report Child Identity Theft

If you’ve discovered that your child’s identity has been stolen, take action now. Here are the most important steps you can take to report child ID theft, stop further misuse from occurring, and begin clearing your child’s name.

  • Report Fraud to the FTC and OIG: Report child ID theft and learn more about recovery on the FTC’s fraud report page and on the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) fraud report page.

  • Report Fraud to the Credit Bureaus: File a report to the three major credit bureaus by following these links: Transunion fraud report, Equifax fraud report, Experian fraud report.

  • Freeze Your Child’s Credit:

    Transunion minor credit freeze: Call 1-800-680-7289, or visit Transunion’s credit freeze page.
    Equifax minor credit freeze: Call 1-888-766-0008, or visit Equifax’s credit freeze page.
    Experian minor credit freeze: Call 1-888-397-3742, or visit Experian’s credit freeze page.

  • Contact Companies Where Fraud Occurred: According to the FTC, the fastest way to close unauthorized accounts and get your child’s credit back to its pre-fraud state is to communicate with all banks and credit bureaus involved. Start this process as soon as possible.

How to Avoid Child Identity Theft

As more and more of our information becomes publicly accessible, it’s important that parents begin asking themselves new questions, such as:

  • How can I protect my kids’ credit?
  • How do I protect my child from identity theft?
  • How do I protect my child’s Social Security number?

To help answer these questions, we’ve put together a quick checklist of actionable steps parents can take to minimize their children’s vulnerability to child ID theft – so you can stop fraud before it begins.

  1. Freeze Your Child’s Credit Now: We discussed freezing your child’s credit if you see signs of child ID theft. However, to prevent fraud before it happens, most states allow parents to freeze their children’s credit until they need it.

  2. Keep Information off People Search Sites: One of the best ways to prevent adult and child identity theft is to opt-out of people search sites. These sites create unauthorized profiles of adults by compiling public record information. While they aren’t supposed to publish information about minors, scammers can leverage background reports on parents and adult siblings to steal a child’s identity. These sites are notoriously tricky to remove your information from, but at OneRep we created a tool that will take your information off of 196 information brokers – automatically.

  3. Be Vigilant About SSNs and Private Documents: Shred sensitive documents, and keep your family’s physical Social Security cards and personal information behind lock-and-key. When asked for this information digitally, ensure you’re using a safe website that actually requires an SSN. If you’re ever uncomfortable, ask for an alternative option.

    See also: Social Security Scams: A Complete Guide to Protect Yourself from SSN Fraud and Related Identity Theft

  4. Teach Your Child About Internet Safety: Remember that surprising statistic about bullied children being significantly more likely to become victims of child ID theft? Children who are unprepared to protect themselves emotionally may also be unable to protect themselves or discern threats digitally. Teach your kids about internet safety and the importance of privacy.

  5. Actively Monitor Accounts: Make it a point to review all of your financial statements and to check in on your children’s credit to make sure nothing is wrong.

Child Identity Theft FAQ

How common is child identity theft?

While it isn’t discussed as often as adult identity theft, child ID theft is more common than you might think. A report by Javelin Strategy and Research found that more than 1 million kids a year could have their identities stolen.

Is child identity theft legal?

No. Compromising anyone’s Social Security number is illegal, and actively misusing that information to commit financial fraud is a serious crime. 

What are the reasons for child identity theft? 

Because parents rarely check on their child’s credit, this form of ID theft is very appealing to criminals because they can do it for years unnoticed.

What age group is most at risk for identity theft?

Because adults use their SSNs more often, open up financial accounts, and generate a lot of public record information, they’re more often targeted. However, when child ID theft occurs, often it may not be realized for much, much longer.

How do I know someone is using my child’s SSN?

Check your child’s credit for suspicious information, and keep an eye out for collection notices or financial statements in your child’s name.

What are some other interesting facts about child identity theft? 

6 in 10 children become victims of familiar fraud, which means their identity gets stolen by someone they know. According to Javelin, family friends are the most common perpetrators, accounting for a third of all cases involving minors.

Related: How Do I Find Out if Someone is Using My Social Security Number?

To Wrap It Up…

Few things are scarier for a parent than finding out that their child’s future has been compromised. Child ID theft can make it harder to get jobs, open bank accounts, apply for mortgages, and so much more. We hope our list of prevention and resolution tips will help parents give their kids the future they deserve. Also, we encourage all parents to think about their own online privacy and keep their personal information secure. Don’t forget that children’s good habits begin by following their parents’ example. Let OneRep help you take care of your online privacy and focus on what really matters: being the best parent you can be.

Iryna Slabodchykava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep | LinkedIn