It’s a shocking experience thousands of parents have endured: finding out someone else has been using their child’s identity. It’s heartbreaking to think of a young person trying to start out in life with an unjustly tarnished credit history. To guard against a future of frustration for your child, take the following kid-specific identity theft prevention measures.
Get the credit report
You might think your child is too young to have a credit report, but identity thieves have been targeting even newborns recently, figuring the younger the child, the longer before anyone finds out. Use the website www.annualcreditreport.com to access the reports for your child. Since everyone who has a report gets one free copy each year from each of the three bureaus, stagger your requests for your child’s reports, attempting to access a different report every four months. If you get a response that your child has no report, be happy – a child shouldn’t have any information yet to compile a credit file. If the child does have a report, examine it to find out what information is being reported and why.
Get the social security earnings record
This is another source of information that may seem silly to try to access for your child, but if someone is using the child’s identity to work illegally, the earnings may show up here.
Keep important papers locked up
Items like a birth certificate, social security card or passport should be kept in a secure location like a safe or a hidden lock box. Don’t carry them with you unless absolutely necessary.
Monitor the mail
If your child gets business mail that isn’t age appropriate – like credit card offers or collections notices – contact the sender and ask them to provide you with more information about why they are sending these items to your child. Do not provide any of your child’s personal information to the sender.
Be careful with sensitive information
If someone – even a doctor or school administrator – is asking for your child’s social security number, birth certificate or other potentially dangerous information, ask them why they need it, how it will be used, what security measures are being taken, and if there are alternatives to providing this information.
Talk about safe Internet habits
Young people spend a tremendous amount of time online these days, so have a discussion with them about the difference between secure and unsecure sites, the need for strong passwords, computer security settings and other issues related to Internet safety. Since a lot of kids share movies and music using peer-to-peer software, make sure the anti-virus software on the computer is updated to protect against malware.
Be especially careful with social media sites
Identity thieves have been known to monitor social media accounts to build information profiles for children. Therefore, it is a good idea to advise your child to avoid giving out an address, birth date, or any information that could be used to guess a password.