Why Would a Scammer Steal Your Child’s Identity?
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. But criminals don’t only target adults with credit cards, solid credit scores, or savings accounts.
According to Javelin Strategy’s 2021 Child Identity Fraud study, one in 50 children were the victims of identity theft last year. Even worse, victims lost $918 million lost to child identity theft [*].
But why would an identity thief come after your child?
Unfortunately, scammers have discovered that they can use your child’s sensitive information — name, date of birth, and Social Security number (SSN) — to take out credit cards, open loans, and more.
And because few parents or legal guardians regularly monitor their children’s credit, the scams can go undetected for years.
Your child’s safety is every parent’s primary concern. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to identify the warning signs of child identity theft, what to do if you think your child’s identity has been stolen, and the best ways to prevent child identity theft before it happens.
What Is Child Identity Theft (and How Bad Is It)?
Child identity theft occurs when someone uses your child’s personally identifiable information (PII) to wrongfully get services or benefits, or to commit fraud.
For example, anyone with access to just your child’s SSN and name can:
- Open new bank or credit card accounts in their name.
- Take out fraudulent loans with multiple financial institutions.
- Buy vehicles and take out auto loans.
- Apply for government benefits such as unemployment or pandemic relief funds.
- Sign up for utility services (water, electricity, etc.)
- File a fraudulent tax return with the IRS and pocket the refund.
- Illegally gain employment or rent a place to live.
- Combine their SSN with other information to create a “synthetic identity”.
While a SSN is often the most appealing document for thieves, they also are after other sensitive information. A stolen birth certificate, name, address, or date of birth can also put your child at risk of fraud.
Unfortunately, because child identity theft easily goes undetected, the consequences can be severe. Children rarely realize their identity was stolen until they get denied for a credit card, student loan, driver’s license, or job.
Why Do Criminals Target Children for Identity Theft?
There’s an obvious financial motivation behind child identity theft. But that’s not the only reason why scammers target children instead of adults.
A child’s identity is essentially a “blank slate” for identity thieves. Children don’t have credit reports and few parents actively monitor their child’s credit or SSN, which means the fraud can go undetected for years. If a thief has a damaged credit reputation, a child’s identity is a way to start over, get hired at a job, or even avoid criminal prosecution.
While it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to apply for a loan, few companies actually verify ages before issuing credit cards or lines of credit. To make matters worse, in 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) switched to randomized SSN numbers. This means it’s no longer easy to tell an applicant’s age by their SSN.
Lastly, a child’s identity is easy to steal.
Your child’s SSN could be stolen in a data breach and leaked to the Dark Web. But a more likely scenario is that the crime is committed by a family member, friend, or guardian who has easy access to their sensitive information.
According to Javelin’s study, over 70% of child identity theft victims know the perpetrator.
📌 Check to see if your child’s SSN or other personal information has been leaked to the Dark Web using Aura’s Dark Web scanner →
How Does Child Identity Theft Happen?
- Theft within the family (i.e., familial fraud): Family members, close friends, and legal guardians are most likely to commit child identity theft. They have easy access to sensitive documents and can hide the fraud from the child (and the rest of the family) for years.
- Phishing scams on email or social media: Children who use the internet unsupervised are also at higher risk of identity theft. Scams on social media or email often directly target children by tricking them into giving up their SSN and other personal data.
- Data breaches from companies with your child’s SSN: Billions of pieces of PII have been leaked in data breaches in the past few years. Any company that stores your child’s SSN can be hacked, leading to your child’s personal information being available on the Dark Web for as little as $5 [*].
- Account hacking: Hackers can gain access to your or your child’s devices through unsecured Wi-Fi networks, password hacking, or malware. Any of these types of cyber attacks can lead to your child’s personal information being stolen. Unfortunately, with the rise of remote learning, these scams have become even more prevalent.
- Physical theft of sensitive information: Documents that contain your child’s SSN can be stolen from the mail or out of your trash. In some cases, criminals will bribe employees at companies or schools to hand over sensitive information.
Related: All The Ways That Identity Theft Happens (and How To Protect Yourself) →
How To Tell if Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
- Your child starts to receive bills in their name.
- Your child receives credit cards or pre-approved card offers in the mail.
- You start to receive calls from collection agencies asking for your child.
- Your child already has a credit file in their name. (You can check this by contacting the major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.)
- You get a notification from the IRS that your child’s name or SSN has been used on another tax return or that your child owes income taxes.
- Your child is denied government benefits.
- You receive age-inappropriate junk mail addressed to your child.
Don’t ignore any strange mail, calls, or messages with your child’s name. While there’s a small chance that your child ended up on spam lists, any unsolicited communication is a huge red flag of child ID theft.
If you’re concerned that your child’s identity might be compromised, learn how to recognize these common warning signs of child identity theft.
Related: Did You Accidentally Give a Scammer Your Child's SSN? Here's What To Do →
Was Your Child’s Identity Stolen? Follow These Steps
- Contact the fraud department at any company where your child’s identity was used. Ask the companies to close those accounts right away and request a letter of confirmation to make sure it was done.
- Contact the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and ask them to remove fraudulent accounts.
- Freeze your child’s credit report with each of the credit bureaus. This requires lenders to verify your child’s identity before extending credit.
- File an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- File a police report for identity theft with local law enforcement. This is an especially important step if a family member committed the crime and you want to press charges.
- Contact the SSA to check if your child’s SSN has been used elsewhere (such as for taxes, government benefits, or employment). If it has, you may be able to change their Social Security number.
10 Ways To Protect Your Child From Identity Theft
- Freeze your child’s credit immediately
- Don’t give out your child’s SSN (except when absolutely necessary)
- Keep your child’s sensitive documents in a secure location
- Start monitoring your child’s credit and SSN
- Teach your kids not to overshare online (and don’t do it yourself)
- Secure your child’s devices from hackers
- Don’t ignore strange mail in your child’s name
- Limit the number of accounts and services your child signs up for
- Delete personal information off old devices before trashing them
- Sign up for family identity theft protection
With all types of identity theft, prevention is the best course of action. Here are 10 ways that you can secure your child’s identity today and protect them in the future.
1. Freeze your child’s credit immediately
Children under the age of 16 shouldn’t have a credit file. If yours does, there’s a good chance they’ve been targeted by an identity thief.
Contact each of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to check for any credit files associated with your child’s SSN. Even if you find nothing, you should ask them to freeze your child’s credit.
A credit freeze will prevent criminals from using your child’s personal information to take out credit. Guardians and parents can freeze the credit of children under the age of 16 while 17- and 18-year-olds can freeze their own credit files.
Here’s how to get in touch with the credit bureaus to freeze your child’s credit report:
- Equifax: Call 1-888-378-4329 or fill out and mail in a minor security freeze request form.
- Experian: Use their online portal to fill out a minor security freeze request (or print and mail it in).
- TransUnion: Send a request for a “protected consumer freeze” including copies of your government-issued ID and documentation that you have authority to act on behalf of the minor.
Each bureau (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) has slightly different requirements. To be safe, send in copies of the following documentation:
- Your government-issued ID.
- Your birth certificate.
- Proof you have authority to act on behalf of the minor (such as a foster care certification, power of attorney, or your child’s birth certificate).
- Both your and your child’s Social Security card.
- Proof of your address.
Keep copies of everything you send to each credit bureau. When you receive a confirmation letter, it will include your child’s credit PIN, which you’ll need to unfreeze it later on. Store everything in a secure place along with your other sensitive documents.
Related: Aura vs. LifeLock: Which Service Is Right For You? →
2. Don’t give out your child’s SSN
Keep your child’s SSN and physical Social Security card secure and don’t give them out if it’s not absolutely necessary. In almost all cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the only entity that requires your child’s Social Security number.
If a school or doctor’s form requests their SSN, leave it blank. If they’re adamant that you include it, ask why they need it, how they’ll use it, and how it will be stored. You can always give them just the last four digits (instead of the full number).
Related: How To Keep Your Kids and Teens Safe on Social Media →
3. Keep your child’s sensitive documents in a secure location
The sad truth is that the majority of child identity theft is carried out by family members or other people you know. Any document with your child’s personal information should be kept in a secure place away from prying eyes (ideally, a locked and fireproof safe).
Here’s what you should keep locked away:
- Your child’s Social Security card.
- Your child’s birth certificate.
- Any medical records (to prevent medical identity theft).
- Other documents with sensitive information.
4. Start monitoring your child’s credit and SSN
It’s impossible to constantly monitor everywhere a criminal might use your child’s SSN. Credit and identity monitoring services scan databases and can alert you of potential signs of identity theft.
For example, Aura will alert you if your child’s SSN or personal information has been stolen and leaked online.
5. Teach your kids not to overshare online (and don’t do it yourself)
Social media and messaging apps offer the perfect opportunity for criminals to steal your child’s personal information.
Oversharing on social media can make you the target of phishing attacks and imposter scams, where fraudsters pretend to be friends or people you trust and get you to give up your account information.
Children on social media are also at a higher risk of having their passwords and other personal information leaked in data breaches. The highest-risk networks include Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook [*].
To help keep your kids (and yourself) safe on social media, make sure to:
- Use the strictest privacy settings on your profile to restrict who can see and interact with your posts.
- Limit commenting and message access to only close friends and followers.
- Teach your kids not to post personal information, such as their birthday, address, SSN, driver’s license, or other documents.
- Consider disabling location sharing.
- Think twice before posting publicly on any social media site.
- Limit their use of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
Even basic information can be enough for an identity thief. A scammer can use photos of your phone to uncover your address or use your posts to guess passwords or security questions (like your pet’s name or elementary school).
Related: Internet Safety Tips for Kids & Teens (Parents Need To Know) →
6. Secure your child’s devices from hackers
Your child’s phone, tablet, and laptop could potentially be hacked by scammers who want to steal their personal information or extort them for money.
Keep their devices and your home network safe from scammers by:
- Enabling biometric security (fingerprints, face ID, etc.) to lock their devices.
- Encrypting their data so that if they get hacked, their data can’t be accessed. (All devices running iOS use data encryption by default. Here’s how to encrypt your data on Android or Windows devices.)
- Installing antivirus software to protect against malware attacks.
- Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your home network to stop hackers from spying on you and your family.
- Teaching your kids to spot the signs of an online scammer.
7. Don’t ignore strange mail in your child’s name
Bills, junk mail, and other strange mail in your child’s name is a huge red flag. If you start to receive anything suspicious, contact the company directly to see how they got your child’s information. Be especially cautious if you start to receive pre-approved credit card offers as this is a clear sign that your child has a credit file (even if you didn’t start it).
8. Limit the number of accounts and services your child signs up for
Think twice before entering your child’s information on apps, websites, giveaways, or services. Whenever possible, only use your own email address rather than any identifying information.
Once your kids have their own Instagram, Discord, TikTok, and other social media accounts, follow them to monitor what they share. Give them guidance on what’s safe to share and what could be putting them at risk.
Related: These 11 New Discord Scams Can (and Will) Steal Your Data →
9. Delete personal information off old devices before trashing them
Like most parents or guardians, you probably have devices full of photos of your children as well as their personal information. If you ever decide to sell, donate, or recycle an old device, be sure to wipe it first and restore it to factory default settings.
10. Sign up for family identity theft protection
You know the importance of child identity theft prevention. But you’re also a busy parent or guardian. It’s impossible to be everywhere at once. That’s why an identity theft protection service can be a powerful tool for keeping your entire family safe.
With Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution, you get:
- Identity theft protection for your entire family. Aura monitors your online accounts, passwords, SSN, and other sensitive information for signs of identity theft. You’ll get alerts if anything has been compromised or your family is at risk. Family plans include protection for up to 5 adults and children.
- Credit monitoring to stop financial fraud. Aura will also monitor your credit file and bank accounts for signs of financial fraud. Aura’s fraud alerts are up to 4X faster than the competition, so you’ll be able to shut scammers down quickly.
- Device and network security against hackers. With Aura, you also get antivirus to protect your devices against malware and a VPN that keeps your network safe from hackers.
- 24/7 U.S.-based support. If you need help, Aura’s dedicated team of White Glove Fraud Resolution specialists are always available.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy. Every adult member on an Aura plan is covered for up to $1,000,000 in eligible losses due to identity theft.
Aura is the top-rated identity theft protection service by Security.org and Identity Protection Review, so you know your family is in safe hands.
The Bottom Line: Keep Your Children Safe From Scammers
You might not think identity theft could happen to your child, but the sad truth is that it can. Criminals will stop at nothing to steal your child’s identity and take out credit or benefits in their name.
The best thing you can do to protect your child now and in the future is secure their identity from scammers. Teach your kids about the dangers of identity theft and how to stay safe online.
For peace of mind and added protection, sign your family up for Aura’s identity theft protection.