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Child Identity Theft: Protecting the Family from Invisible Threats

Chris Wilson - Writer for Top10.com
two little girls sitting at a table with a tablet
Cybercriminals often target children's information for credit fraud, a threat that can go unnoticed for years.

ID theft protection services are now more important than ever for our children. Did you know that one in 80 children has been a victim of identity fraud within the last year?

While child identity theft is usually committed by someone known to the child, the rise in cyber identity fraud is alarming. In 2022 alone, there were 2.4 million fraud reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Even everyday online activities could unintentionally put your child at risk.

I'll explain how thieves can steal children's identities and offer methods to protect their personal information.

» Read real victims' nightmarish ID theft stories to learn how to protect your family.

Understanding the Reality of Child Identity Theft

Javelin's latest research shows that social media and constant Internet use put kids at greater risk of identity theft. Their personal information is more exposed than ever due to frequent data breaches.

Identity thieves especially target children under seven, exposing them to financial, physical, and emotional risks. In higher-income families earning over $150,000, the threat is even greater. About 26% of these children experience data breaches, and 23% become scam targets.

Richard Power, a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon, published a study showing the troubling increase in the misuse of children's social security numbers. The research reveals that 10.2% of children had their SSNs used for crimes such as buying property and opening credit accounts. The youngest victim was just five months old, while the most severe case involved a 16-year-old girl frauded out of $750,000.

Common Ways Children's Identities Are Stolen

Children's identity theft often happens in ways you might not expect. Thieves exploit online information, altering birthdates or using details from deceased individuals. Their tactic is quick: Open an account, get a cash advance, and flee before being caught. This makes it hard to track them, and often, children and parents don't realize what's happened until much later.

Almost half of the children who suffer identity theft also have their social media accounts hacked. Surprisingly, even baby registries aren't safe; Public Amazon registries can unintentionally reveal personal information, like parents' names, where they live, and the baby's due date.

Thieves use this data to create fake accounts for financial gain or to cover up stolen funds, as explained by James Lee from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

It's crucial to be aware of these risks to protect your child's identity.

How to Spot Child Identity Theft

Start by checking both your mail and your child's. Be on the lookout for unexpected items like credit card approvals or ATM cards that could easily be mistaken for junk mail. Since children typically receive very little mail, any unusual correspondence should raise a red flag.

Consider using fraud monitoring services like LifeLock, which can offer an added layer of security. They watch for fraudulent activities and promptly alert you to any signs of identity theft.

LifeLock LifeLock Get Started

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends looking out for these issues:

  • Government benefits issues: Be alert if your child is denied government benefits because they're being paid to another account under their Social Security number.
  • IRS notices: Take note if the IRS contacts you about unpaid taxes or if your child's Social Security number was used on another tax return.
  • Unexpected calls or bills: Be wary if you receive collection calls or bills for things you didn't buy.
  • Credit offers: Pay attention if your child starts receiving credit card offers or bank information in the mail.

How to Protect Your Child’s Identity

Freeze Your Child's Credit

If your child is under 16, you can send credit freeze requests to the three main credit agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This freeze makes it harder for someone to open new accounts in your child's name and stays in place until you choose to remove it​​.

» Which one is right for you? Credit freeze vs. credit lock.

Limit Access to Your Child's Social Security Number

Be cautious about who has access to your child's Social Security number. When asked for this information, for example, by your child's school, ask why it's needed, how it will be protected, and if a different identifier can be used instead. Protect documents with your child's personal information in a locked file cabinet and shred them if disposing of them​​.

Educate Your Child About Online Safety

Teach your children not to share personal information on social media. This includes their home address, full legal name, online passwords, school name or address, date of birth, Social Security number, your work address, and any banking or credit card information.

Avoid 'Sharenting'

When you participate in 'Sharenting,' posting your child's photos and information online, you risk exposing them to identity theft, cyberbullying, and online harassment.

According to Time, 92% of American children have an online presence before the age of two due to parents posting about 1,000 images before their fifth birthday.

What you share online creates a permanent digital footprint for your child, potentially affecting their future. Avoid posting sensitive photos, use private communication methods, involve your child in decisions about online posts, and never disclose personal details like their full name or birthdate.

Use an ID Theft Protection Service

Identity theft protection services like Identity Guard and Aura can help safeguard your child's online data. They monitor personal information, like social security numbers, to detect fraud. These services alert you to suspicious activities and offer support in case of ID theft.

What to Do if Your Child's Identity Has Been Stolen

If you're worried that someone is using your child's personal information, it's important to check their credit. Start by contacting the three major credit bureaus:

You'll need to request a manual search of your child's Social Security number. For this, the bureaus will ask for your child's birth certificate, Social Security card, your government-issued ID, and proof of address, like a utility bill or insurance statement.

If your child or you become a victim of identity theft take immediate action. Report the theft at IdentityTheft.gov, inform the company where the fraud occurred, and notify the FTC. This quick response helps track down the issue and limits the damage.

Be Proactive About Child Identity Theft

The risk of child identity theft is increasing as children have online access from a young age. Cybercriminals target them for their untarnished credit histories. Actions taken by fraudsters can lead to serious financial and legal issues for your child's future.

Be careful to overshare personal details online, regularly check their credit for suspicious activity, teach your children about Internet safety, and consider using ID theft protection services. By following these steps, you'll protect not only your children but also your entire family.

» Take these 10 steps to protect your identity right now.

Chris Wilson - Writer for Top10.com
Chris Wilson contributes to Top10.com as a CSPM with over 23 years of experience in the North American security market. His expertise includes system design, project management, and solutions engineering. Chris has written for SDM and Locksmith Ledger and co-published various blogs within the security industry.