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Protect your kids and grandchildren from ID theft

 

Little girl in crib holding a social security card

In 2023, 915,000 children (1 in 80) were targets of ID theft. Thieves used their identities to open credit cards and make mobile purchases to the tune of $680 million. This is down from a record high of $918 million in 2022, so it looks like awareness is improving to prevent this type of fraud.


Most child ID fraud goes undetected for years because children don't file taxes or apply for loans, which is when it would ordinarily be flagged.


While not as large a fraud category as adult identity theft, Child ID fraud takes an average of 16 hours to resolve – 7 hours more than for adults. Why? Because it is easier to mesh identities with a child who has no real officially published identifiers like drivers licenses, insurance cards, home titles, etc.


Once an ID thief has a child’s social security information, the rest is easy. Many kids' basic info, such as their full name, address, and date of birth, can be found online through social media accounts. A new, similar identity is then created so that opening a credit card or line of credit is, unfortunately, pretty simple. A thief needs only to change a digit or two on a birthday year, and he's good to go.

 

How to keep the ID thieves at bay


Here are some simple steps you can take to protect your child's ID and credit:


  • Do a baseline check of your child’s credit report (Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are easy to use, free services) and then freeze it. No one needs a credit report until they reach adulthood, so as soon as you get your child’s SSN, ask the credit agencies to freeze your child’s credit.


  • You should periodically monitor your child’s report just as you monitor your own. If you see any suspicious activity, you can take action immediately and limit the damage.


  • Sadly, ID thieves can be relatives, payment collectors at doctor’s offices, or even pre-schools. Teachers, coaches, school nurses, and many other "roles" that interact with your child have been caught stealing IDs. Hand out your child’s SSN only if you are absolutely sure it is necessary and will be protected.


  • Put your children’s SSN cards and birth certificates in a fireproof box or bank box. Make sure any digital copies are protected with multifactor authentication and very long, unique passwords (18-character passwords are very strong) that have no relationship to the child. You could use the first line to a favorite book you read together, or a string of pet names - the longer the better.


  • Don’t post any personal information about your child on social media, including the birthday year you just celebrated or the day on which it was celebrated.


  • Don’t post pictures of “milestone” documents like grade school graduations, learner permits, or anything with an address or full name.


  • Just because kids are growing up online doesn’t mean their judgment is grown up, either. Warn your kids about common phishing traps, such as personality quizzes, video game chats, stranger’s questions, and emails asking for personal information. Tell them they should never give out any personal information to strangers without checking with you first.


  • There is a great website called Be Internet Awesome, which lets children play games and learn what to do and not do while online to stay safe. You can go through it with younger children, as it's never too soon to start learning online safety.


Key takeaway: your child’s credit and identity are up to you and your child being informed about the risks and risky behaviors that could impact their lives for decades. Take steps now to ensure their transition into adulthood isn’t hampered by ID thieves.


 

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Sources: AARP, KimKomando, Be Internet Awesome

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