Child Identity Theft is On the Rise
You know you need to protect your social security number, but did you know your children may be at risk too? Credit-reporting bureau Experian announced more than $1 million children have their identities stolen each year and warned one in four children will be a victim of identity theft before adulthood. Child identity theft can be especially detrimental to your children’s credit scores, because often it is not noticed or reported until much later, when they go to open their first bank account or apply for student loans.
Identity thieves can use children’s social security numbers to open fraudulent lines of credit or take out credit cards. Building good credit takes time and rebuilding credit after negative credit events can take even longer. According to the Experian report, a decade after the discovery of the childhood identity theft, one in four victims are still dealing with credit-related issues, and 81% are uncertain they would get approved for a line of credit or loan. Michael Bruemmer, vice president of the Data Breach Resolution group and Consumer Protection at Experian, explained, “it’s an easy crime to commit because many parents are not paying attention to keeping a child’s identity safe.”
One-third of child identity theft cases happens from a relative or someone with access to personal information. An increasingly digital environment, like digital medical records, has also made it easier for cybercriminals to hack personal data. Bruemmer warned, “if you are not familiar with the security practices of a place asking for personal information don’t share it.” In fact, many schools and doctors’ offices request social security numbers on forms when it’s not necessary. Only give out your children’s social security numbers when it is required.
Encourage your children to be mindful about what information they share online. An excited 16-year-old posting their first driver’s license on Instagram is not a good idea. As a parent, you can also monitor your children’s credit online, as soon as they are issued a social security number. Visit www.identitytheft.gov and select “Special Forms of Identity Theft” under the Child Identity Theft section. Experian also offers a free credit monitoring service for children. Another option is to open a line of credit in your child’s name and freeze it until they are ready to use it.
Your credit score is comprised of five differently weighted components including payment history (35%), amount owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and credit mix (10%). A fraudulent account that has been delinquent for many years will negatively impact payment history, amount owed, and length of credit history, three of the most significant credit score influencers. Being proactive about your child’s credit score now ensures they are set up for success later in life when applying for student loans, car loans, or even a mortgage loan.