Child identity theft has experienced a marked increase during the past decade. In fact, according to a report released by Carnegie Mellon University CyLab, a well respected cyber-security research and education center, children are significantly more likely than adults to be victims of identity theft. Cyber-criminals prefer stealing children’s identities because it typically takes longer for these crimes to come to light.

Being a victim of child identity theft can complicate things for a young adult trying to get a loan for college, among other things, so it’s important to be alert to the problem. Efforts to fight child identity theft involve raising awareness about the crime and teaching parents concrete, practical techniques for dealing with this crime, as well as working toward legislative and regulatory changes so parents are better able to protect children against identity theft.

Common To Target Children

The most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that in 2012 about 16.6 million people 16 years of age and older were victims of identity theft. The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) cites two separate studies in pointing out how much more likely children are to be victimized in this manner.

One report, prepared by CSID, an international company specializing in identity security and fraud prevention technologies, found children to be 35 times more likely to experience identity theft. The other report FICO cited was the one prepared by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab, which placed the number at 51 times more likely.

Safer For The Cyber-Criminal

In many cases, it can be years before a family realizes that a child’s identity has been stolen. Often, it isn’t noticed until the financial aid process is begun for college. Then, the information starts to pop up. There may be credit reports, credit cards, utility bills, foreclosures and repossessions.

Sometimes parents find out much sooner through a fluke, such as a debt collector tracking down their preschooler or a child in elementary getting pre-approved credit card offers. Most parents aren’t checking their children’s credit reports because, well, they’re kids, so it is easy to see how such a thing could be missed for so long.

Impact Typically Delayed

Because this crime often takes some time to surface, the impact on its victim is often delayed. That impact can go much further than problems with applying for college financial aid. Credit reports are often reviewed by potential employers and landlords. The young adult may have difficulties in obtaining a car loan. Sometimes, it takes a while to work these things out.

An Ounce Of Prevention

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises parents to be protective of their children’s sensitive information right from the start. Keep social security cards locked up and don’t share them. Try not to give them out unless absolutely necessary. Everybody seems to ask these days, doctors, dentists, summer camp, and so on. Always suggest alternatives, such as using just the last four numbers.

The FTC also recommends that parents be proactive in letting their children’s schools know that they expect those schools to be diligent about protecting such information. Ask for specifics about how the information is protected, as well as about who has access to the information and why. Pay attention to school websites and what types of information is displayed.

In a National Public Radio (NPR) interview, founder of Identity Theft 911 and former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Adam Levin told host Michael Martin that most parents share far too much about their children on social media. He went on to explain that even fairly innocuous things, like a child’s favorite color, book, song or a pet’s name could be used as security question answers by identity thieves.

Start checking a child’s credit report at about 16 years of age. That way, if identity theft is discovered, there is plenty of time to get things worked out before college financial matters come up. Furthermore, proving that the financial activities showing up on credit reports is the result of fraud should be easier when the child is clearly still a minor.

If A Pound Of Cure Is Called For

If child identity theft is discovered by a parent, via such warning signs as an IRS notice concerning unpaid income tax, credit card bills or other unusual documents, it is important to talk to police. File official reports detailing the fraud and request a fraud alert for the child from one of the three credit reporting agencies. Then, work on clearing the credit report of incorrect information.

The credit reporting agencies investigate when an entry is disputed, which is best done in writing. Be sure to keep all records of the credit report correcting process, as some items may have to be dealt with more than once. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that most people are able to clear up identity theft issues within a few days. Although it does happen, it is unusual for the process to take months.
Legislative And Regulatory Change Necessary

With the rise in identity theft against children, some legislative and regulatory weaknesses soon became apparent. Credit reporting agencies and state officials in many states wouldn’t work with parents to protect children because the way the regulations and laws were written, parents couldn’t work with credit issues on behalf of their children.

In some states, changes have been made, but other states still need to be pressed for change. However, the credit reporting agencies have really stepped up to the plate to help parents deal with this sort of situation. They will perform searches on a child’s name, offer tips on how to protect against child identity theft and make it clear that they will act as a partner in helping to unravel the credit report issues associated with this type of crime.

Raise Awareness, Be Cautious

Parents can help fight against child identity theft by joining the effort to raise awareness. That way, instead of being surprised by child identity theft at the college financial aid office, parents will recognize the signs of a problem much sooner or avoid such problems altogether by being cautious with their children’s sensitive information right from the start.

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One Response to “Fighting Against Child Identity Theft”

  1. I had no idea that this was a common problem! Its good to know that the best practice is to advise police. I think I might dismiss unusual documents as mistakes, or perhaps advertising scams, but it sounds like that would be a poor assumption to make.

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