Identity thieves are interested in children’s identities because they are a blank slate; they don’t have a credit history. Children are 51 times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than adults, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab. In addition, Javelin Strategy & Research reports that more than 1 million children were targets of identity theft in a single year. Half of those victims were under the age of six. And, the out-of-pocket expenses that hit these families totaled $540 million.
What is child identity theft?
Child identity theft is the malicious use of a minor’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as their Social Security number (SSN), to commit fraud. Children’s social security are clean slates, potentially remaining unchecked for years, giving scammers ample time to cause substantial damage to the child’s credit.
Any identity thief can take a legitimate (stolen) SSN, add a different name, birth date, address, and phone number to start a new and fraudulent credit file – known as synthetic identity theft. Often other family members are the culprit due to their close proximity to sensitive documents.
How does child identity theft happen?
Child identity theft can happen when a minor’s PII is used maliciously by:
- a criminal with stolen information found in the Dark Web. Thieves are often after credit, as it grants opportunities to take out loans, open credit lines, and commit other types of identity fraud under a new name.
- a family member or friend with easy access to the child’s personal information.
- a guardian. Kids in foster care are often at increased risk for identity theft, according to Identity Theft Resource Center.
With social media platforms, school systems, pediatrics, and other healthcare data breaches on the rise, along with parent social oversharing, smart toys, video games, and mobile applications gathering their information, kid’s exposed identities are increasingly making their way to the Dark Web.
“Child fullz,” the name fraudsters use to refer to a child’s complete stolen information package, can be easily found for sale on the Dark Web. These “fullz” include names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security numbers. Each packaged identity starts at $10 each or can be purchased in bulk for even less.
Thieves are often after credit, as it grants opportunities to steal money under a clean slate. Here are just a few ways criminals can use children’s Social Security numbers:
- Apply for jobs
- Open bank and credit card accounts
- Apply for a loan or utility service, including a cell phone account
- Get out of a crime or arrest
- Apply for government benefits
What are the warning signs my child’s identity has been stolen?
Child identity theft often goes unchecked and unnoticed for years, only to be discovered when your child starts to apply for loans or credit cards. By then, the toll could be devastating with years and years of defaulted accounts. Identity thieves use the identity to take out new credit card accounts, obtain driver’s licenses, get a job, and even buy homes and cars – unimaginable actions parents don’t suspect as their child grows up.
Consider these warning signs that your child’s identity has been stolen:
- You receive a notice from the IRS regarding a tax return filed under your child’s name
- You are denied government benefits because your child’s Social Security number is attached to someone else’s benefit claim
- Your child receives credit card and loan offers in the mail
- Collection calls and notices start targeting your child
What to do if your child is a victim of identity theft?
Aside from the emotional devastation triggered by realizing your child is a victim of identity theft, the financial damage can take years to repair. Fraudsters take advantage of every piece of information they can get their hands on. Compromised account logins and passwords give them access from social media, video games, and other online accounts. Having Social Security numbers can allow them to open new accounts in your child’s name.
- Check whether your child has a credit report with the three credit bureaus. If your child does have open accounts in their name, follow the instructions provided with the credit report to remove fraudulent accounts,
- Request a free credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, to make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your child’s name.
- Limit who has access to sensitive information. Take control and don’t feel pressured to provide sensitive information when completing certain forms. Additionally, ask how the information provided about your child is used and secured.
- Educate them on the importance of safe online habits, especially when creating online accounts and keeping track of passwords.
- Monitor their information while they are young and protect their identity for further fraud with identity theft protection. Be a step ahead of cybercriminals and have an extra set of eyes monitoring your family’s personal information.
How can I protect my child’s identity?
Here are five steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family against the devastation of child identity theft:
- Understand where your child’s PII is stored, particularly at schools, dentists, and medical offices; verify that their records are secure.
- Know how any PII you provide on school forms will be used with whom it will be shared. Verify that these forms are updated and that it is indeed necessary to even provide PII about your child.
- Ask about the school’s directory information policy and what information about your child is included. You have the choice to opt out.
- Consider a Credit Freeze for minors, available from all three major credit bureaus, making it more difficult for a fraudster to open new accounts with a child’s PII.
- Guard against scammers using social media to target children’s identities with Social Media Identity Monitoring
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