Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Rowman and Littlefield)
According to the 2013 Javelin Strategy and Research Identity Fraud Report[i] someone falls victim to identity theft every three seconds in the U.S. In fact, there were 12.6 million victims of identity theft last year alone. The report shows a pattern of continuous increase starting in 2010 when there were 10.2 million victims, followed by 11.6 million victims in 2011 and a three year high of 12.6 million victims was reported in 2012.
Social Security numbers continue to be the prime target for thieves. This one item provides thieves the most access to credit, services and luxury. This is key information because not only do adults have Social Security numbers, but children do as well. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January – December 2012[ii] states that 6% of all identity theft victims are age 19 and under. Consider for a moment the 12.6 million victims reported by Javelin. This means that approximately 756,000 victims last year were children.
The 2012 AllClear ID Alert Network Child Identity Theft Report[iii] stated that the rate of identity theft for children has now reached an astounding 35 times higher than the rate for adults. Children are now the preferred target for thieves for several reasons, the first of which is the length of time someone can use a child’s identity without discovery. Other reasons include the fact that children, parents, schools, medical providers and others do not take enough preventative steps to protect children’s identities. Law enforcement, too, is challenged by the ever-changing nature of identity theft methods and jurisdictional boundaries.
Education is the key to prevention! Child identity theft thrives because parents do not understand the concept of a child’s information being of value. Many parents view children as being excluded from the income-earning workforce, therefore not at risk of becoming a target. As previously mentioned, this is not true. It is critical that parents take steps to protect a child’s information.
A few steps you can do to help prevent child identity theft are as follows:
- Discuss privacy with your children. Convey to them that personal information, such as your Social Security number and date of birth, should not be released without their parent’s permission.
- Make it a policy to check your credit report annually. For parents, visit www.annualcreditreport.com. For children, visit each of the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian) on the internet. Make sure to follow each agency’s procedures to obtain your child’s report. As an additional step, ask the credit reporting agency to do a “manual” search on your child’s Social Security number to ensure you are getting the entire information available.
- Encourage your children not to carry unnecessary amounts of identity in their purse, wallet, or backpack. This includes their Social Security card and birth certificate. Parents should refrain from carrying their children’s Social Security card. Instead, use a fire proof locked box at home for all vital information.
- Families should shred all documents no longer needed that contain personal identifying information. The best shredding method is to use a cross cutting shredder.
- Parents should question any form that asks for a child’s Social Security number. Most all entities asking this information do not actually need it, they just desire it. The more often you give your child’s personal information away, the more likely they become targets.
If you find that your child has been victimized, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian) and ask the agency to place a credit “alert” on your child’s file. This is free and it will last for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days, you can call again and renew the alert. Placing a credit alert will require the credit reporting agencies to notify you before credit is granted in your child’s name.
Your nest step should be to start a “journal of activities” concerning your child identity theft victimization. List the date, contact name, phone number, address and details of each person you speak with. Parents should contact the police and ask for a report. This will assist you in dealing with creditors who otherwise will not help you in cleaning up the damage without one. As an additional step, I always recommend contacting the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov to report the victimization. This helps report the true picture of how often child identity theft is occurring, and it will help you with the clean-up process.
There is certainly another important aspect of this crime that cannot be overlooked, that being emotional trauma. Child identity theft takes families on an unwanted emotional roller coaster. Emotions experienced include anger, frustration, and a sense of a loss of security and trust. Children victimized are not the only ones to experience these issues. A victim’s entire family will experience the emotional pain during the clean-up process.
In addition to taking steps to prevent child identity theft in the future, I encourage families to consider professional counseling along the path of recovery from this crime. Healing from victimization can be a slow process, but commitment can withstand many challenges.
For more information on child identity theft, visit my websites:
[i] 2013 Identity Fraud Report. Javelin Strategy and Research, Accessed March 16, 2013. https://www.javelinstrategy.com/news/1387/92/More-Than-12-Million-Identity-Fraud-Victims-in-2012-According-to-Latest-Javelin-Strategy-Research-Report/d,pressRoomDetail
[iii] 2012 Child Identity Theft Report. AllClear ID Alert Network. Accessed March 16, 2013. https://www.allclearid.com/blog/child-id-theft-report-2012