Your child's identity may have been stolen already. Someone may be using it right now, this very minute, without you having any clue.
Scary, but true.
While identity theft is a well-known and widespread problem for adults, we too often forget that shortly after our babies are born, they have traceable identities that begin growing as they do. And they're just as vulnerable, if not more so in some cases, as the rest of us.
This week marks National Protect Your Identity Week, so I caught up with Jacqueline Klosek, an attorney, author, and privacy specialist, to talk about why children are so often targets and what we can do specifically to protect their identities.
How many children are the victims of identity theft each year?
According to the FTC, in 2009, there were nearly 20,000 reported identity theft complaints for minors (those 19 years of age and under). This translates to about 7 percent of the total identity theft complaints for that year. It's important to note that this number reflects the number of complaints filed. The actual number is probably considerably higher because many victims do not report the crime.
Moreover, many individuals who are victims of identity theft aren't aware of it and thus cannot report it. This is particularly the case insofar as children are concerned because they rarely apply for credit or check their credit reports. Thus, they often don't have a means for learning that they have been victimized.
Why are they so susceptible?
We're all vulnerable to identity theft. Unfortunately, children can be particularly attractive targets for identity theft. For one, sadly it's often relatively easy for thieves to obtain identity information on a child. Second, identity thieves who target children are often able to perpetrate their crime for a long period of time without being detected. As noted above, children usually don't apply for credit, and most parents don't make a habit of checking their children's credit reports on a regular basis. As a result, all too often parents don't realize that their children have been victimized for many months or years after it has occurred.
What damage can be done if a child's identity is stolen?
Once a child's identity is compromised, thieves can use it in a number of different ways. For example, criminals can use the information to commit credit card fraud; phone or utilities fraud; bank fraud; government documents fraud; and other types of financial fraud. Identity thieves can also use the information to commit medical identity theft. This can occur when a thief uses the identity of another to obtain medical services. This is a growing area of crime and can have significant repercussions on the victims' lives.
What tips can you give parents to help protect their child's identity?
Fortunately, there are a number of simple steps parents and guardians can take to help protect their children from falling victim to identity thieves. Here are some suggestions:
- Check your child's credit report on a regular basis. We should all check our own and our children's reports on yearly basis. You can request a report each year at: www.annualcreditreport.com.
- After you apply for a Social Security number for your child, make sure you actually get the card in the mail. Follow up immediately with the Social Security Administration (www.socialsecurity.gov) if you don't receive your child's card.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) if you believe your child may have been the victim of identity thieves.
- Refrain from disclosing your child's Social Security number unless absolutely necessary. Companies are increasingly aware of the risks of identity theft and are making fewer unnecessary requests for SSNs. However, still, one will often see the request on camp forms, sports applications, and the like. If you're pressed to provide the number, ask why it's needed and how it will be protected.
- Do not store your child's Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it in a secure location as you would with other sensitive documents.
- Protect your child's health insurance card and number to reduce the risks of medical identity theft.
Has your child's identity ever been stolen? What steps do you take to protect it?
Image via PortectYourIDNow.org