Can Someone Steal Your Child's Identity?
The scary truth is that children are often more attractive targets than adults for scammers, cybercriminals, and identity thieves.
The latest research from Javelin Strategy found that [*]:
Child identity theft affects around 1.25 million American children each year with families losing nearly $1 billion.
As a parent, your child’s safety is your top concern — but are you doing enough to keep them safe online?
Scammers are constantly finding new ways to target your family. As kids grow up and become more independent, there are more ways than ever to target their identities and online safety — from hackers creating fake apps, to phishing emails and cyberbullies on online games.
In this guide, we’ll explain how child identity theft happens, how to tell if a scammer is using your child’s identity, and what you can do to protect your child from identity theft now and in the future.
What is Child Identity Theft? How Does It Happen?
Child identity theft happens when someone fraudulently uses the identity of a minor for financial or personal gain.
For example, scammers could use your child’s Social Security number (SSN) and name to apply for credit cards, take out loans, receive government benefits, or commit tax fraud — all in your child’s name.
Children are highly desirable targets for identity theft because they’re essentially “blank slates” for criminals.
Children don't have credit scores, credit card statements, or any credit history at all. Scammers can start small by building a legitimate credit history for your child and then
Here’s how child identity theft happens:
- Scammers steal or access your child’s personally identifiable information (PII). This could include their SSN, name, home address, email address, and more. This information is unfortunately easy to find online due to the number of recent data breaches. Stolen SSNs sell for as little as $2 on the Dark Web [*]. In many cases, the perpetrator is someone the child knows — such as a family member, community member, or teacher [*].
- Next, they apply for credit, take out loans, or open bank accounts in your child’s name. It's illegal for anyone under age 16 to apply for a loan, but very few companies verify ages with government documentation. Scammers could also use your child’s identity to apply for jobs, file for government benefits, or commit tax fraud.
- The scammers disappear without paying their debts — leaving you to pick up the pieces. Child identity theft often goes unnoticed for years and is only discovered when your child applies for their own credit (such as a first credit card or student loans).
The impact of child identity theft is hard to measure. Children end up with destroyed credit scores or even get denied financial aid and employment. On average, child identity theft costs American families an average of $372 out-of-pocket on top of any fraudulent charges you need to pay back [*].
How To Tell If Your Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen
- Your child already has a credit file. If scammers are using your child’s identity, it will show up in their credit file. You can request a free copy of your child's credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. If there's already a report 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.
- You receive bills or credit offers in the mail in your child’s name. If you see pre-approved credit card offers or other financial "junk mail" addressed to your children, this usually means their identities have been used to apply for credit.
- You start to receive calls or letters from collections agencies asking about your child. Debt collection notices or bills addressed to your child may signify that a credit lender is trying to recover unpaid debts that someone has accrued in your child's name. This is a classic red flag for ID theft.
- You claim your child as a dependent on your tax return but are informed that they already filed for taxes.
- Your child receives IRS letters claiming unpaid taxes: If IRS letters addressed to your child appear 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 notice first.)
- Your child is denied credit, student loans, or government aid. If your child is denied benefits because their 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.
- You receive inappropriate junk mail addressed to your child. If age-inappropriate magazines, flyers, or junk mail show up, it could be a sign that someone is using your child’s identity to sign up for adult services.
- You’re alerted by your family identity theft protection service that someone used your child’s SSN. Aura constantly monitors your child’s SSN and alerts you if it’s been stolen or exposed online.
If you see any of these warning signs of child identity theft, you need to act quickly to protect your family.
10 Ways to Protect Your Child Against Identity Theft
Scammers and criminals are always looking for new ways to target you and your family. Here are ten steps you can take to protect your child from identity theft.
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 one of the best way to prevent identity theft.
A security or credit freeze blocks access to your children's credit reports and denies all credit applications. This means that scammers won’t be able to open new lines or credit or take out loans in their name.
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 the time.
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. Sixteen or 17-year-olds can initiate a security freeze by themselves.
You can also easily get all of the forms and information you need to freeze your child’s credit directly in Aura’s family identity theft protection app
2. Teach your kids to keep their information private online
Criminals know that children aren’t as cautious of online interactions and will often look for personal information on social media profiles, websites, and forums. As a parent, it's crucial to teach your children how to protect their personal information and privacy online.
Ensure your children understand the importance of never disclosing their full name, date of birth, home address, and phone number. For teenagers, this also includes their Social Security numbers (SSN) 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 and that an identity thief may use caller ID to pose as someone else.
When in doubt, encourage them to come to you to check if they’re dealing with a scammer.
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 school 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.
4. Use parental controls to limit and monitor your children online
As a parent, you need to strike a balance between educating your children of online threats and monitoring what they do online to make sure they stay safe.
Parental controls gives you insights into how your children are using the internet and their devices so you can make sure they’re not putting themselves at risk.
For example, Aura’s parental controls allow you to:
- Monitor content and block sites. Use content filters to customize what apps, games, and sites your kids can access online.
- Manage and control screen time. See how much time your kids are spending online and set limits on specific apps or sites, such as YouTube, Instagram, and games.
- Pause the InternetⓇ. Temporarily turn off all online connectivity for your child’s device with a single click.
- Protect your kids against cyberbullies and predators in online games. Get alerted to any potential cyberbullies or predators who are contacted your kids when they’re gaming on their PC.
5. Limit what accounts and services are in your child’s name
Be vigilant 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 extend 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.
6. Restrict what your child (and you) share online
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.
Here are a few ways to enhance your social media privacy:
- Make your profile pages private.
- Restrict who can see your posts.
- Limit commenting 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.
💡 Related: 10 Warning Signs of Cyberbullying (and What To Do) →
7. Secure your child’s mobile devices
Your child's smartphone, tablet, or laptop can open the floodgates for all types of identity theft.
Enable Face ID 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, 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.
Finally, consider installing antivirus software to protect them if they accidentally click on links or download files from hackers.
8. Completely wipe old devices before recycling or giving them away
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. This prevents anyone from accessing sensitive images, documents, and files that could put your family at risk.
💡 Related: How To Block Websites on Android Devices (7 Methods) →
9. Safeguard physical documents with your child’s PII
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; it can be incredibly difficult to change Social Security numbers, even after identity theft or fraud. And, of course, use a shredder to discard any physical documents you no longer need.
10. Consider signing up for family identity theft protection
When it comes to keeping your kids safe from identity theft, there's simply too much for one person to monitor.
With Aura, you get identity theft protection for your entire family, award-winning parental controls, 24/7/365 credit monitoring, proactive data breach alerts, and notifications of any suspicious activity, along with a $1M insurance policy which may cover eligible losses as a result of identity fraud.
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) to understand the extent of the damage. Setting up a security freeze is the best protective measure to prevent future fraud.
- 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 fraudulent, 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 severe roadblocks 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 or applying for student loans. Fraud takes a lot of time and money to resolve and may damage your child's credit for years or even decades.