Sure, your child needs to be 15 before becoming an authorized user on a credit card account, 18 before signing a binding loan agreement, and 21 before applying for a credit card without a cosigner or some income to pay the bills. But long before that, they are “eligible” to have their identity stolen. In fact, according to a Child Identity Fraud Survey conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, 1 in 40 households with children under age 18 had at least one child with personal information compromised by identity fraud in 2012.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your kid from becoming a victim of child identity theft. For starters, parents can request credit reports for children under 14; children 14 and over can request a copy of their own credit reports. There are also credit monitoring services they can employ if they’re worried their kin’s personal information fell into the wrong hands. Here’s how to use credit monitoring to protect your child’s identity.
Why Is Your Child at Risk of Identity Theft?
Identity thieves are targeting children 18 and younger, swiping their Social Security numbers and applying for credit accounts in their names and piling up charges. Why? Because children aren’t in the habit of checking their credit. In fact, they often won’t even have a legitimate credit report unless something’s amiss. Remember, credit reports are a detailed account of your credit history, so until your child becomes an authorized user on your credit card account or gets a student loan, for example, they won’t leave a paper trail. In the meantime, thieves can wreak havoc by opening up bank accounts, credit lines, service contracts like a cellphone plan or more if they get their hands on a kid’s Social Security number.
A stranger who accesses a child’s Social Security Number, a dishonest family member or a friend of the family with access to a child’s personal records may commit this crime. Foster care children are particularly vulnerable to child identity theft because of the number of people who have access to their Social Security numbers.
How Can I Monitor My Kid’s Credit?
To protect your child, get in the habit of monitoring his or her credit reports. Reach out to each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and request copies of your child’s credit records.
You will need to provide each credit reporting agency with your child’s name, address, date of birth, plus copies of your child’s birth certificate and Social Security card. You will also need to provide a copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued identification card and a utility bill showing you live at your current address.
Remember, children generally won’t have credit file unless you’ve added them to a credit card account in your name, so the mere fact that a bureau can generate a credit report for your child could be a sign that something’s amiss. Other signs that your child’s identity may have been stolen include:
- Pre-approved credit card mail solicitations in your child’s name
- Calls from a debt collector asking to speak to your child
- An unexpected denial when you go to open up a bank account for your child
- The arrival of cell phone or utility bills in your child’s name
If you discover your child is a victim of identity theft, be sure to report the fraud to the local authorities and the Federal Trade Commission.
What Is Credit Monitoring?
A credit monitoring service keeps tabs on your (or your child’s) credit report and notifies you of any changes that may occur. The major credit bureaus offer their own credit monitoring services, along with many of the major financial institutions and credit card issuers. Some services are even specifically designed to monitor a child’s identity.
Of course, prices for credit monitoring can vary, so it’s a good idea to shop around and compare and contrast them carefully. It’s also a good idea to thoroughly vet any company you’re considering. You can check out their record with online review sites, the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or even your state Attorney General’s office.
How Can I Monitor My Own Credit for Identity Theft?
If you’re worried about your own identity being compromised, you should monitor your financial accounts regularly — daily if possible. The earlier you can spot unauthorized charges, the faster you can alert your financial institution and fix the problem.
Monitoring your credit regularly is also important. You should pull the free copies of your credit reports you can get once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Signs of identity theft include mysterious addresses, unfamiliar credit inquiries and a major drop in your credit scores. To keep a closer eye on your credit, you can monitor two of your credit scores for free every 14 days on Credit.com.
Jeanine Skowronski contributed to the reporting of this article.
This article has been updated. It was originally published August 21, 2014.