Children make tempting targets for identity thieves. The reasons are clear—a child’s identity is a blank slate, and childhood identity theft is likely to go undetected for years. By then, the damage may be extensive. But there is some good news—by understanding the issue and looking out for warning signs, parents can catch identity theft early and undo the harm before it impacts their child’s future.
Let’s start with a little known fact about credit reports—children are not automatically assigned a report at birth or when a Social Security Number (SSN) is issued. Your credit activity literally builds your credit report. A credit report is not even created until a lender first reports a credit account to one of the three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). In time, you won’t just have one report, you’ll have three—one with each of the bureaus. Because children generally do not engage in credit transactions, a credit report under the SSN of a minor is a red flag that identity theft has occurred.
So how can you find out if your child has a credit report, or rather confirm that none exists? One easy tool is TransUnion’s online Child Identity Theft Inquiry form. Fill out the form to check whether your child has a credit report with TransUnion. If TransUnion doesn’t have a report on your child, Experian and Equifax probably won’t either. If you need further assurance, or if you have any reason to suspect identity theft, you should check with the other two bureaus as well—this will require submission of a letter and copies of identifying documents such as the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card.
When should you suspect identity theft? As there is often no hint of a problem, periodically checking that no credit report exists may be your safest bet. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you check when your child is around 16 years old—if you find fraud, you’ll have time to repair the damage before your child applies for a student loan or tries to rent an apartment.
Remember that identity theft can take many forms, and not all of them include the creation of a credit report. Your child’s identity can be used to fraudulently obtain employment, a dependent child tax exemption, or medical insurance coverage. In addition to the existence of a credit report, the following should be taken as clear tipoffs that your child is or may become a victim of identify theft:
- Collection calls or bills addressed to the child
- Pre-approved credit card or other financial offers in your child’s name
- An IRS notice that the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s SSN was used on someone else’s tax return
- A bill or insurance notice for medical services your child didn’t receive
- A notice that a data breach may have compromised the child’s information
What should you do if you confirm that your child’s identity has been stolen? The basic steps are the same that you would follow if you were the victim. You’ll need to:
- Request the child’s credit reports to identify fraudulent activity.
- Document the fraud by creating an Identity Theft Report.
- Contact each credit bureau and the fraud department of each business to correct inaccuracies and close fraudulent accounts.
- Place a fraud alert or security freeze to protect your child’s identity going forward (note that neither of these protections are an option for children who don’t yet have a credit report).
For more information and complete step-by-step guidance on what to do if your child’s identity is stolen, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources.