Before leaving the maternity ward, all three of my kids had social security numbers.Their cards now sit in a folder with their birth certificates. We take them out once year when we do our taxes and after that we rarely think about their social security numbers.
For a thief, these idle numbers are a gold mine. According to the FTC, “most parents and guardians don’t expect their youngster to have a credit file, and as a result, rarely request a child’s credit report, let alone review it for accuracy. A thief, who steals a child’s information may use it for many years before the crime is discovered.”
Fifteen years ago, I had my identity stolen. It took a lot of time and effort to clear my credit report. Now, I check regularly and investigate all suspicious activity. During these checks, I often wonder if I should also check my kids’ credit reports.
I was surprised to discover parents should not routinely check their children’s credit reports. Both the FTC and Identity Theft Resource Center recommend that parents only order a report on a child if they suspect a problem.The reason is children should not have a credit report. However by requesting credit checks every year, parents may unwittingly end up generating a report. When a credit card company see a report exists, they are more likely to believe the thief is a real consumer and issue credit.
Both of these organizations recommend that all parents order a credit report once a child turns 16. At this age, kids are close to applying for college loans or financing a car. Checking at 16 allows enough time to review a report and correct any errors before a child applies for credit.
Besides ordering a credit report at 16, the FTC also recommends that parents:
- Keep all documents with a child’s personal information safely locked up.
- Use a secure connection beginning with “https” before sharing personal information online
- Update all antivirus and firewall protection.
- Do not send personal information through an unsecured wi-fi connection at a public place such as a coffee shop or library.
- Delete electronic computer files that you no longer need, and empty your online trash or recycle bin.
- Remove personal or financial information that might be stored on your computer, cell phone, or other device before you dispose of it.
If a parent discovers their child is a victim of identity theft, parents should immediately alert each credit reporting company (Transunion, Experian and Equifax), place a fraud alert on their child’s file and contact the FTC and local law enforcement.