Can Someone Steal Your Child's Identity?
Unfortunately, yes. Child identity theft is a real problem. Scammers have found clever ways to commit child identity theft and make a living off your kids.
A 2021 study by Javelin Strategy found that one in 50 children were victims of identity theft in the past year.
As a parent, you’re always looking out for your children’s safety. You’ve taught them not to talk to strangers and to look both ways before crossing the street.
But are you as vigilant when it comes to protecting your child’s identity?
Today, we’ll cover the ways to protect your child’s identity, how to recognize the warning signs of child identity theft, and what to do if your child’s identity is stolen.
What is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft happens when someone fraudulently uses the identity of a minor.
It’s illegal for anyone under age 16 to apply for a loan, but very few companies verify ages with government documentation.
Children are highly desirable targets for identity theft because children don't have credit scores, credit card statements, or any credit history at all. Children are digital ghosts, making them the perfect target for identity theft.
Child victims often don't learn that their identities were stolen until much later in their adult life. For example, their student loan application may get rejected, or they could fail a background check for a new job.
8 Ways to Protect Your Child Against Identity Theft
- Freeze your child's credit.
- Teach your kids to keep their information private.
- Never share your child's social security number.
- Limit accounts & services opened in your child's name.
- Limit what your child (and you) share on social media.
- Secure your child's mobile device.
- Safeguard physical documents.
- Get identity theft protection.
1. Freeze Your Child’s Credit
Since children can’t get credit until they’re at least 16 years old, initiating a security freeze is the best way to prevent identity theft.
A credit freeze blocks access to your children’s credit reports and denies all credit applications. You or your children can reverse the freeze when they’re old enough to need credit.
Setting up a security freeze for a child is more complicated than setting one up for an adult, but it’s worth taking the time to implement.
You’ll need to contact the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—and prove the identities of both you and your child, and show that you’re the parent or legal guardian.
The process is slightly different for each credit bureau, but you’ll need your ID as well as your child’s birth certificate.
The process is simpler for older children since 16- or 17-year-olds can initiate a security freeze by themselves.
2. Teach Your Kids to Keep Their Information Private
As a parent, it’s crucial to teach your children how to protect their personal information and privacy online. This is a key step in preventing ID theft. As the saying goes, great defense is the best offense.
Your children should never give anyone their private information via phone, text, or social media.
Ensure your children understand the importance of never disclosing their full name, birthday, home address, and phone number. (For teenagers, this also includes their Social Security numbers and driver’s license information.)
Encourage your kids to hang up on anyone who calls asking for sensitive information. Explain that texts, emails, phone calls, and social media messages aren’t always from the people they claim to be.
Scammers will use caller ID to pose as someone else. Social media impostors using fake social media accounts will attempt to phish your kids out of their login information.
3. Never Share Your Child’s Social Security Number
Sadly, in three out of five cases of child identity fraud, the child victim knows the perpetrator.
Anyone — from family friends to volunteers in extracurricular activities — can take advantage of the information that children share with them.
That's why it’s a good idea to keep the most vulnerable piece of personal information—your child’s Social Security number—as private as possible.
The IRS is the only entity that truly needs to know your child’s Social Security number. When forms from school or doctor’s offices request your child’s SSN, you can usually leave it blank. If you absolutely must share, ask how the number will be secured and who will have access to it.
Alternatively, you can offer the last four digits (instead of the full number), although these digits are still valuable to cybercriminals.
Since you probably won’t need to access your child’s Social Security card often, find a safe place to store it, and occasionally check to ensure that it’s safe.
4. Limit Accounts & Services Opened In Your Child’s Name
Be restrictive when it comes to disclosing your child’s personal information on online accounts, apps and services.
For simple activities like raffles or contests, only disclose limited information such as your email address. In most cases, you can use your own name instead of your child’s name.
These ideas also apply to social media. Consider restricting your children from having social media accounts or messaging apps in their own names until they reach a certain age. Studies have also shown that too much social media exposure can have harmful effects on your children's self esteem.
Once your children have created their own Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media accounts, follow them to monitor what they share—and offer guidance on what’s safe versus what’s risky.
5. Limit What Your Child (And You) Share on Social Media
Few parents realize that social media is the perfect way for identity thieves to find family members’ personal information.
This applies to everyone in the family. It’s easy for parents—and often grandparents—to overshare on social media and put children’s identities at risk.
Ways to Enhance Your Social Media Privacy:
- Make your profile pages private.
- Restrict who can see your posts.
- Limit comment access to close friends or followers.
- Limit message requests to approved followers only.
- Be careful and think twice before you post.
- Never reveal your address or date of birth.
- Consider disabling location sharing for certain apps.
Even seemingly innocuous information can enable fraudsters. They can match photos of your home to your address and even find answers to security questions — like a pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, childhood best friend, or elementary school.
The bottom line: be smart and use common sense before posting publicly on social media.
6. Secure Your Child’s Mobile Device
Your child’s smartphone, tablet, or laptop can open the floodgates for all types of identity theft.
Enable Face ID and/or an access password in order to unlock your child’s device. This is the default on most smartphones today; but if your child’s device isn’t password-protected, go update that mobile device setting immediately. Here’s how to do it for iOS, and for Android.
Consider going the extra mile and encrypting your child's data. This means that even if a thief can access what’s on the device’s memory, the information will be meaningless without the password.
If you decide to sell an old smartphone, tablet, or computer — be sure to wipe the memory clean and restore everything to factory default settings.
7. Safeguard Physical Documents
When you think of identity theft, computer hacking probably comes to mind; but age-old crimes like burglary and mail theft are just as dangerous.
At home, choose a safe place (ideally with a lock) to store important documents such as your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate, and medical records (to prevent medical identity theft). A heavy safe is the best option, as criminals can steal a lightweight document safe and crack it open later. Be especially careful with your child's SSN as it can be incredibly difficult to change your Social Security number, even after identity theft and fraud.
And, of course, use a shredder to discard any physical documents you no longer need.
8. Get Identity Theft Protection
There’s simply too much for one person to monitor when keeping your child’s identity safe online. If you have no idea what to do if you or your family's identity is stolen, an identity theft solution like Aura’s family protection plan is the best safeguard.
You’ll get 24/7/365 credit monitoring, proactive alerts about data breaches, and notifications of any suspicious activity, along with a $1M insurance policy which may cover eligible losses as a result of identity fraud.
Warning Signs of Child Identity Theft
- Your child already has a credit report.
- Your child receives credit offers in the mail.
- Your child receives collection notices or bills.
- Your child receives IRS letters claiming unpaid taxes.
- Your child is denied government benefits.
1. Your Child Already Has a Credit Report
You can request a free copy of your child’s credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. If there’s already a report opened under your child’s name, this is an obvious red flag. Credit reporting agencies don’t generate reports for minors, so identity theft may be at play.
2. Your Child Receives Credit Offers
If you see pre-approved credit card offers or other financial “junk mail” addressed to your children, this is usually a red flag that means their identities have been used to apply for credit.
3. Your Child Receives Collection Notices or Bills
Debt collection letters or bills addressed to your child may signify that a credit lender is trying to recover unpaid debts that someone has filed under your child’s name. This is a classic red flag for ID theft.
4. Your Child Receives IRS Letters Claiming Unpaid Taxes
If IRS letters with your child's name on it are popping up in your mailbox, it's a clear indicator that someone has used your child’s Social Security number at a job.
You should only trust a physical letter, as nearly all calls claiming to be from the IRS are scams. (The IRS will only call about large amounts of overdue taxes, and will always send a letter first.)
5. Your Child is Denied Government Benefits
If your child is denied benefits because his or her Social Security number has already been used, it could mean someone else has applied for benefits, such as unemployment, with your child’s personally identifying information.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
If you suspect your child is a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:
- Review and freeze your child’s credit report. Review your child’s credit file (if it exists), as this will help you understand the damage. Setting up a security freeze is the best protective measure to prevent fraud in the future.
- Notify credit bureaus and impacted companies. If your child has an active credit report, ask all three credit bureaus to investigate the possibility of fraud. Alert any listed companies and let them know the activity was fraudulently done with a minor’s information, and ask them to investigate.
- File a report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Report the stolen identity to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. You’ll need this report for the next step.
- Alert local law enforcement. Take all supporting documentation, including your FTC report, and file a police report for identity theft.
The Bottom Line on Protecting Your Child’s Identity
All parents want their children to have bright futures, but identity theft can create difficulties that children only discover once they’re older.
Children with fraudulent credit card accounts in their names may face problems when getting their first job, applying for student loans, or worse. Fraud takes a lot of time and money to resolve and may damage your child’s credit for years or even decades.
Parents must pay careful attention when it comes to their children’s digital safety. The facts and guidelines outlined in this article will help you to also protect your child’s identity. Taking just a few important steps now will safeguard your child’s identity for years to come.
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