As if we didn't have enough to worry about raising kids in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission is out there scaring the pants off parents today with its Stolen Futures forum. Just the name sounds ominous, doesn't it? The problem? Your kid is prime pickings for identity theft, and it could take years before you figure it out.
OK, off the bat, it sounds a tad crazy. My kid doesn't have a credit card. She is always siphoning out of her piggy bank and begging to use it for ice cream. What would identity thieves want with her? She's a bit spendy! And yet, in 2006, more than 10,000 identity theft claims were filed on behalf of kids under 18.
Turns out they don't want our kids' money at all (well, if they had some, they would). Nah, they make do with our tot's Social Security numbers and names to get jobs, apply for THEIR own credit cards, take out loans, the whole nine. And when I stop ranting and think about it, it makes sense. Take on a little kid's persona, and who is going to notice? The average parent isn't applying for a credit card for their kid or trying to take out a loan -- there is no red flag along the way.
Think about it. When's the last time you used your kid's Social Security number? To register them for kindergarten? To add them to your health insurance? Maybe to give to grandma so she can buy a savings bond? We use the number a fair amount, opening it up for some jerk to grab. But we're not using it in a way that will clue us in if someone's using our kid's number for their funny business.
So how do we protect our kids? There are companies that offer to do it for us, but here are four free options that really work:
1. Don't carry their Social Security cards in our wallets. This should be obvious. Every identity theft protection list out there tells us not to carry our OWN Social Security cards, but so many parents I know can't remember their kid's number ... and they think their kids are safe. Wrong-o!
2. Be judicious about sharing their number. This one is tough. There are legitimate places that want the number -- schools, health insurance companies, etc. You can always ask if this is optional; sometimes it will be, sometimes it won't. But when your best friend forever wants to buy a savings bond, it's perfectly acceptable to say, "Eh, you know, I'll fill out the paperwork instead." Request that your child's school and pediatrician NOT use their number on forms. Also be aware when you're signing kids up for after-school sports and other programs that if copies are being made of your child's paperwork, you need to know WHO has access to the copies.
3. Get their credit report. I know what you're thinking: my kid doesn't HAVE credit. But if their identity has been stolen, they DO. A credit report will enable you to catch a thief now instead of your 18-year-old finding out their name is mud when they try to apply for their first credit card. The Identity Theft Resource Center can help with the process.
4. Freeze their credit. Many states now allow for a "credit freeze" that makes for a difficult process for anyone planning to open a line of credit in a certain name. Not always applicable to adults who don't know when they're going to take out their next car loan or apply for an in-store credit card, but a good choice for kids who will generally go years without needing any credit. These can be undone when your children are teenagers.
Have you protected your child against identity theft?
Image via Don Hankins/Flickr