In all the little details of parenting, one thing you might not have had to ask is how do i check my child’s credit report? After all, why would you do it? They’ve never used a credit card before, have they?
It may be true. But that doesn’t mean someone other did not use your child’s credit.
You may think that your child’s personal information, such as their social security number, is completely safe. But that may not be the case in fact. Think about all the schools, doctors, and other organizations that ask for this information. Usually these places protect your child’s information, but the worst can happen to even the most secure organization.
And then there are potential issues for family members and close friends to use your child’s identity to open credit accounts. It is becoming more and more common. In fact, in 2012, one in 40 families surveyed with children under the age of 18 had at least one child with compromised personal information!
I’m not writing this all to scare you off, but to help you spot the warning signs of identity theft and how to deal with them.
The problem of identity theft of children
We don’t often connect our children and their credit in our heads. But the point is, fraudulent activity can happen to anyone with a Social Security number. Thieves often create identities using a child’s genuine social security number associated with a different date of birth. This means that they can often get away with their crimes.
Identity theft may not have an immediate impact on your child. After all, your five-year-old won’t be applying for a mortgage or even a student loan anytime soon.
The problem is, because we don’t think much about our children’s credit records, this type of activity can go unnoticed for years. You may not be aware that your child’s ID card has been compromised until they apply for their first mortgage or car loan, which they will be denied due to bad credit. .
This is the bad news. The good news is that you can look for warning signs and prevent this type of fraudulent activity. Here’s how:
Related: LifeLock Review – Protecting Your Identity
Warning signs to look for
As I mentioned before, this type of crime often goes unnoticed for a year or more because parents do not have the opportunity to check their children’s credit reports. But here are some warning signs the FTC recommends looking for:
- Your child is denied government benefits because their social security number is already receiving these benefits.
- You receive a notice from the IRS that your child did not pay income tax or that your child’s Social Security number was used in another return.
- You receive collection calls or invoices for a product or service that you have never used.
These are the reasons the FTC lists, but if you have another reason to believe that your child’s identity has been compromised, you can also take the following steps. This can include a family member explicitly asking for your child’s identity information in a way that makes you suspicious. Or it may include receiving a notice from your insurance company, doctor’s office, or other entity that the identity they have on their records may have been compromised.
What to do first
Check to see if your child has a credit report. If your child’s ID was used to fraudulently open accounts, they will have a credit report. If they don’t have a credit report, then you’re probably in the clear.
Unfortunately, most online credit report options require a driver’s license or some sort of state ID number to access your information. Since your child is not likely to have one, you will not be able to access their information online.
Instead, you’ll need to manually contact each of the three credit bureaus with your child’s Social Security card and birth certificate, along with your government-issued ID and proof of address. You will need to submit the forms so that the credit bureau can manually extract your child’s credit report – if it exists – manually.
(Click on the links to find the form to check your child’s credit report with TransUnion and Experian. Equifax does not appear to offer this form online, but does offer information about the process here.)
If your child doesn’t have a credit report with one of the three reporting bureaus, that’s a good thing! This means that your child has probably not been the victim of identity theft.
There are some accounts that people could fraudulently open in your child’s name that would not be credited to them, such as cell phone or cable services, but these are less likely. Keep an eye out for the aforementioned invoices and collection calls, just in case.
So what if your child Is have a credit report open showing fraudulent activity? Contact your local police department to file a report. Then contact the credit bureau indicating this activity. They can flag your child’s credit report so that additional accounts cannot be opened.
Related: Can Checking Your Credit More Frequently Get You A Better Score?
How to freeze your child’s credit
Freezing a credit report simply makes it harder to get credit on that report. That doesn’t make it impossible, but it blocks potential thieves.
Opinions differ as to whether or not you should freeze your child’s credit report. This Experian article suggests avoiding that, if possible. If your child has been the victim of identity theft before, you can protect your child’s identity without actually placing a freeze, which often costs money and is not allowed in all states.
Due to the complications, this article suggests freezing only if your very young child is already a victim of identity theft.
Equifax, on the other hand, suggests freezing if your child already has an open credit report. The article rightly points out that a freeze is unlikely to affect anyone bUtah a potential thief, since your child will not need credit for a period of time.
This decision is really up to you. If you find that your young child has an open credit report, you may decide to freeze the report. Consider the laws in your state and the associated costs when making your decision.
Learn more: Which is more effective: a credit freeze or a credit watch?
What about credit repair?
If your child’s credit has already been abused, you may need to spend time fixing the issues. First, you will need to place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. Next, you will need to file a report with the FTC and your local police department.
Next, you will need to contact the companies where accounts have been opened in your child’s name. These companies should work with you to correct the accounts and remove them from your child’s credit report.
It is important to make sure you follow these steps as soon as possible. While you’re at it, be sure to record any phone calls you have and send some information in writing as well. Keep copies of letters and dates you made calls or sent letters. That way, you can reference what you’ve done so far if you’re having trouble getting businesses to close those accounts.
Resource: How to correct an error on your credit report
Should You Pay For Credit Monitoring?
Most credit monitoring services focus on tracking adult credit. However, some services offer protection to all household members. If you are truly concerned about persistent identity theft issues, these services may be of interest to you.
Just make sure you double check these services before spending any money on them. Examine what level of monitoring the services offer and what services they offer to customers who have been victims of identity theft.
Prevent identity theft in the first place
Ideally, you never have to go through all of these steps to protect and clean up your child’s credit report. Because ideally, no one will misuse your child’s identity. But here’s how you can avoid these issues in the first place:
- Know who holds your child’s identity information. Whenever you write down your child’s social security number for a form, keep track of who has that form. Make sure the form is secure. Note who has this information so that you can be notified if that entity has a violation.
- Be careful before giving this information. Sometimes school forms or other entities will ask for this type of information. But the information may not be strictly necessary. Try to avoid writing this information down whenever possible.
- Open a 529 account. Sometimes family members will ask you for your child’s social security number to open a savings account in your child’s name on behalf of your child. Avoid this problem by opening a 529 account. Most online account management options allow you to submit a link so that others can contribute to the account without using your child’s personal information.
- Consider adding your child as an authorized user. Adding your child as an authorized user to your credit card account seems like an easy way to give them access to funds in an emergency. But this action will open a credit report for your child, exposing them to identity theft. Consider using a prepaid debit card as another option.
- Teach your children about these issues. Finally, as your kids get older, talk to them about the importance of keeping their private information private. Remember to keep your child’s social security card where even they can’t access it, so they can’t accidentally slip this information out. And teach them the importance of protecting things like their online account passwords from the start.
Related: 5 ways to improve your credit without getting into debt
Make sure you combine these steps with a basic understanding of the warning signs of child impersonation. By doing this, you can avoid – or remedy quickly, if necessary – this growing problem.
Have you (when you were younger) or your child been the victim of identity theft? How did this affect you and how difficult was it to correct?