SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- The recent rash of retail security breaches have many adults keeping a closer watch on their bank statements and credit reports. But most people don't realize that kids -- even babies -- can be targets of identity thieves.
Child identity theft rates were found to be more than 50 times higher than the average adult in a study published by the CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University.
That study indicated that 1 in 10 children had someone else using their Social Security number.
Those numbers are especially valuable to crooks because a child's credit record is pristine — and rarely checked before they turn 18.
Some warning signs include credit card offers or collection notices addressed to your child, letters from the IRS indicating they've already been claimed on a tax return, or denial of government benefits. However, in most cases, children don't discover they've been victimize until they turn 18 and find that their credit report indicates they've defaulted on mortgages, credit cards or other loans.
For that reason, it's a good idea to make sure that your underage child has no credit record, which is the primary indicator that their identity has been compromised, according to Kenneth H. Abbe, a staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.
A FTC tip sheet provides a good checklist for parents.
Here's a summary of how to detect, repair & prevent child id theft.
DETECT CHILD ID THEFT:
While children are issued a Social Security number at birth, they should not have a credit file until they start using credit.
The FTC recommends parents check for a credit record associated with their child's social security number every 3 to 4 years and at least by the child's 16th birthday.
This will ensure that they have plenty of time to clean up their credit before its time to start applying for college loans.
However, checking for a child's credit record is not as simple as checking for your own. The online tools provided by the credit bureaus and the federally mandated www.annualcreditreport.com do not allow you to pull records for someone under 18.
Each of the three credit bureaus has resources specifically for parents -- who must first prove they are the child's guardian before they can check for records.
TransUnion's e-mail request form is the most user-friendly of the three bureaus. Generally, if one credit bureau does not have a credit file for your child it is unlikely the others will.
Experian's mail-in form can be found here (click "Minor Child Instructions").
NOTE: The credit bureaus will only help you detect fraud related to credit. They will not identify tax or Social Security fraud. Child ID theft victims often find that their Social Security numbers have been used by others to illegally obtain work. This type of fraud often goes unnoticed until it is flagged by the IRS.
REPAIR CHILD ID THEFT:
Prepare the forms:
You'll want to fill out and print multiple copies both of these forms. They will come in handy when contacting police, the credit bureaus and any companies listed on your child's credit report.
File a police report:
If you find that your child's ID has been compromised, immediately file a police report. Provide them with copies of the ID theft affidavit and the FTC's minor status declaration referenced above.
However, ID theft victims often complain that police are reluctant to file reports for ID Theft. They use excuses ranging from "not enough evidence" to "not their jurisdiction." The FTC urges victims to be persistent with police.
Police are required by law to file a police report for ID theft victims.
You can use this memo from the FTC to compel reluctant officers to file a report.
Police reports may be required by the credit bureaus and businesses to repair credit damage.
Contact the Credit Bureaus:
Again, TransUnion provides a user-friendly e-mail option (but never e-mail sensitive information like Social Security numbers).
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289 email@example.com
- Equifax: 800-525-6285
- Experian: 888-397-3742
Ask each of the bureaus to:
- Report the fraud and request they clear your child credit file.
- Place a Fraud Alert on your child's credit file.
- Place a Credit Freeze (AKA Security Freeze) on your child's credit file.
For more information on a Credit Freeze, see this KPIX Story.
You may need to provide the bureaus with copies of the ID Theft Affidavit and the FTC's Minor Status Declaration referenced above, as well as your child's birth certificate or Social Security Card and a Government-Issued ID for the parent/guardian.
Contact the Companies:
The FTC also recommends "Contact every business where your child's information was misused. Ask each business to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft."
Free Resources for ID Theft Victims:
PREVENT CHILD ID THEFT:
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents the right to opt out of sharing certain personal information. Think twice before giving out your child's Social Security number. Just because your school or doctor asks for it, doesn't necessarily mean it's required.
Place a credit freeze (aka security freeze) on your child's credit file. A credit/security freeze is the best way to prevent someone else from opening credit in your name. However, only a handful of states have laws requiring the credit bureaus to allow parents to place a credit freeze (or security freeze) on their child's Social Security number -- primarily because most kids don't yet have a credit file to freeze. Check the laws in your state here.
However, KPIX ConsumerWatch reporter Julie Watts found a workaround in states where there is no such law.
For more information on How to Freeze Your Child's Credit File, see this KPIX story.
Child Credit Security Products:
There are several for-profit Child Credit Security Products that offer subscription services to check for fraud.
- Child Secure/Protect My ID / Experian
- ChildScan / All Clear ID / Transunion
- Identity Guard
- Trusted ID / Equifax
While these services are definitely better than nothing, experts warn, that they are not full proof. They may find suspicions activity before you do, but it's important not to let your guard down simply because you subscribe to one of these services.
They may not detect tax, social security, and some other types of fraud.
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