Here’s how to stop identity thieves from burdening your child with a poor credit history.

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 720,000 reports of identity theft in the first two quarters of 2021. Of those reports, more than 15,000 concerned victims ages 19 and under. Even if you’re on top of taking precautions to keep your personally identifiable information safe, if you have minor children, your identity theft security measures may not stop with just yourself.

Identity thieves could steal your kids’ Social Security number, name and address or date of birth to apply for government benefits, such as health insurance or to open a bank account or credit card. Your child’s stolen identity could also be used to rent an apartment, sign up for utilities or apply for a loan.  All the while, you have no idea that your child’s stolen identity is being used to rack up large amounts of unpaid debt, resulting in a poor credit history.

So, when your kid grows up and starts out on their own, he or she already faces roadblocks to approval for loans, credit cards and renting a place to live. The good news is that you can take steps to protect your child’s identity and know how to spot warning signs that your child’s identity has been compromised.

Ask questions before providing your child’s Social Security number

The FTC recommends asking a few questions first if your kid’s school or another business or organization says it needs your child’s Social Security number for its records. Before simply handing over the number, which can be stolen for identity theft purposes, inquire further about why they need the Social Security number.

Also, ask how they will protect the number from being misused or stolen. Ask if the school can use a different identifier instead or just use the last four digits to identify your child.

Keep your child’s documents in a safe place

Store documents that contain your child’s personal information, such as their Social Security card or medical bills, in a secure place, such as a locked file cabinet. “When you decide to get rid of those documents, shred them before you throw them away. If you don’t have a shredder, look for a local shred day,” advises the FTC.

Delete personal information from devices

The FTC recommends deleting all personal information about your child – and also your own – from the hard drive on your computer, phone or tablet before disposing of devices. That way, the sensitive information can’t be used by an identity thief.

Before deleting, transfer the files to a new computer or save them to the cloud or an external storage device such as a USB flash drive. If saving to the cloud, make sure you find out the level of privacy and security offered.

Watch for warning signs

Keep an eye out for warning signs that your child’s personal information is being used by someone else. Warning signs  include:

  • You’re denied health care coverage, nutrition assistance or other government benefits because someone else is already receiving those benefits under your child’s name.
  • You receive collection calls for a bill under your child’s name for an account you didn’t open for the child.
  • The IRS sends a letter saying that your child owes income taxes. This may happen if someone used your child’s Social Security number on tax forms for a job.
  • You’re denied a student loan because of your child’s bad credit. This can happen when someone else opened a credit card, cell phone, utility or other account and then didn’t pay the bills.

Check for a credit report

Generally, a child under 16 won’t have a credit report – unless that child’s personal information is being used by someone else to commit identity theft fraud. The FTC recommends contacting the three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – and asking for a manual search for your child’s Social Security number to see if a credit report turns up. When you call, you may have to provide credentials such as your driver’s license or other government-issued I.D., proof of address, your child’s birth certificate and/or your child’s Social Security card.

When your child turns 16, also check for a credit report under his or her name. That way, you’ll have time to correct any identity theft fallout by the time they turn 18 and head to college or set out on their own.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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