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What is child identity theft: Signs and prevention

Imagine trying to take out your first-ever credit card only to find your credit is ruined. Someone has been using your personal information, like Social Security number, to create bank accounts, apply for credit cards, and even take out loans. That’s child identity theft — a terrifying and increasingly popular type of fraud targeted at minors that often goes unnoticed for years. So what is it? In this blog post we’ll discuss how it works, how to prevent it, and what to do if your child has become a victim of identity theft.

What is child identity theft: Signs and prevention

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is child identity theft?

Child identity theft is a type of identity theft that occurs when a criminal uses a minor’s personal information for financial gain. Identity thieves can use a kid’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, ID number, or other sensitive information to create fake bank accounts, make payments, take out mortgages, and even apply for government benefits.

Worst of all, a fraudster can abuse the child’s identity for years without raising concerns. The victim might only find out when taking out a card or applying for financial aid themselves. In fact, that’s what makes a child such a good target — their credit card history is a blank slate and will likely remain untouched until they grow up.

Another thing that makes minors particularly vulnerable is the fact that they’re, well, children. They’re more susceptible to social engineering attacks and, worse still, they can’t protect themselves from the adults in their lives. About 73% of child identity theft victims knew the people who stole their identity.

How does child identity theft happen?

Someone can become a victim of child identity theft in numerous ways. Sadly, one of the most common ways a child’s information gets stolen is by relatives or family friends. Once they get their hands on the kid’s sensitive data, like the child’s Social Security card or birth certificate, they abuse it for their own financial gain.

Another common way sensitive information falls into the hands of identity thieves is through data breaches. If the child’s sensitive information has been given to an online service that experiences a cyberattack and hackers get their hands on it, they might use the information themselves or sell it on the dark web.

A child’s identity can also be compromised at educational institutions like high school or kindergarten. If forms containing your child’s Social Security number or other personally identifiable information are not stored properly, the documents can be easily stolen.

Furthermore, a child’s information can fall into the hands of thieves because children themselves let the information slip. Children might be less aware of the dangers of phishing, malware, and app tracking. Kids’ naivete makes them the perfect targets for scammers.

What are the signs of child identity theft?

Looking out for warning signs that your child’s identity has been stolen can help you stop criminals before they ruin your children’s credit completely. Here are some red flags that should get your attention:

  1. You receive bills or credit offers in your kid’s name. If your child receives credit card offers, credit reports, or bills to be paid, don’t write them off as just junk mail. A child’s credit reports might be evidence that someone is already using your child’s information.
  2. Your kid has a credit file despite being a minor. If you suspect something is off, find out if fraudulent accounts have been created in their name. If you’re in the U.S., request a copy of your child’s credit reports here for free.
  3. Debt collectors are looking for your kid. If you start receiving calls or letters from debt collection agencies, it’s not necessarily a misunderstanding. Someone might already be using your child’s identity to make a living.
  4. Your kid receives a letter from the internal revenue service (IRS). If the IRS sends a letter to your child, something’s wrong. If the letter claims that the kid owes the government income taxes, the most likely scenario is that someone used your child’s personal information at their work.
  5. Your kid has already filed their taxes. You claim your child as a dependent on your tax return, but you’re informed they already paid taxes. Unless they have a job you’re unaware of, they’re probably a victim of identity theft.
  6. Some bizarre mail is addressed to your child. If you’re consistently sifting through unrecognizable flyers, junk mail, or inappropriate magazines, it might indicate that your child’s personal information has been leaked. It does not necessarily mean they’re a victim of identity theft, but you should investigate further.
  7. Your child is denied government benefits or loans. Unfortunately, this sign usually comes later in their life, when they start to take the first steps into adulthood. If your child applies for financial aid or health care coverage but gets denied, someone might have used their identifying information for their own gain.

What to do if child identity theft occurs

Finding out you or a loved one is a victim of identity theft can be terrifying. However, you can take some steps in response.

  • Measure the damage. Review your child’s credit report to gauge the extent of the fraud committed in your kid’s name. Keep every document and screenshot every fake charge — you will use it for evidence later.
  • File a report with the federal trade commission (FTC). You can report identity theft on the official FTC website.
  • File a police report. Inform your local law enforcement about what happened — gather all the evidence of the identity theft, include the report you filed with the FTC, and bring your child’s personal information to prove their identity.
  • Close the fake accounts. Contact the companies that have fraudulent accounts with your child’s personal information and explain what happened. Ask them to reverse the charges if possible and then close the accounts to prevent more damage in the future.
  • Freeze your kid’s credit. If your child is under 16, you can ask the FTC for a credit freeze. It will prevent potential creditors from assessing the child’s credit, making it more difficult for scammers to open new fraudulent accounts.
  • Alert credit bureaus. Ask all the major credit bureaus to investigate your kid’s accounts for fraud. If any of them have an active credit report for your child, ask them for help removing them. If you’re not sure where to start, the three major credit bureaus are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
  • Get support. You’re not alone in this situation — contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for help.

How to prevent your child from identity theft

  • Educate yourself. Ensure you know about the basics of internet safety for kids and how to protect yourself and your family. Keeping an eye out for emerging cyber threats and learn how to avoid them — is there a new wave of scammers on WhatsApp? A new type of spyware targeted at kids?
  • Teach your kids. Start with the basic rules of netiquette — what’s appropriate and inappropriate online. Then move on to digital threats. Teach them about the types of hacking they might encounter, and the importance of cybersecurity.
  • Use strong passwords. And encourage your kids to do the same. Make sure all of your passwords are unique, long, and contain special characters. Don’t share them — and store them securely. If you’re worried about remembering them all, use a password manager, which stores your credentials in a secure vault and helps you come up with secure logins.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA). Make sure you and your kids use multi-factor authentication wherever possible — it provides an extra layer of security for all your accounts.
  • Invest in anti-malware software. You and all of your family members should have malware protection — it alerts you if your device is infected and helps remove malicious software.
  • Use a VPN. A VPN protects your online activity and hides your virtual location from snoopers. Premium VPN services like NordVPN offer additional features like protection from infected files during downloads, malicious websites, trackers, and intrusive ads. NordVPN also has a dark web monitoring feature that scans the internet for your leaked credentials.
  • Keep your child’s personal information in a secure place. Keep their physical documents out of sight, ideally in a safe. Don’t forget — ID theft is often carried out by those that we know.
  • Avoid sharing your child’s Social Security number and birth certificate. Even if a form for school asks for this sensitive information, you can leave the question blank. If the institution insists, double-check where this information will be used and how it will be stored.
  • Limit what websites and services your kid can use. You can use content filters to restrict specific websites and apps on your child’s devices. Consider implementing parental controls or learning how to lock phone screen for kids if they are very young. Open conversations about internet safety work better on older kids.
  • Make sure you protect their identity as well. No matter how old your kids are, sharing their pictures, name, or age online is rarely a good idea. Also, make sure you have the strictest privacy settings on your and your family’s social media accounts.

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