For parents, cleaning up the disaster of identity theft for their children is costly and incredibly time consuming. Getting a new Social Security Number is almost impossible, and rarely the best option.
Taking steps right now to protect your child from this horrible crime is one of the greatest investments you will ever make in their financial and emotional future.
Acting now on behalf of your child will protect them from consequences common to child victims:
- Starting adulthood with a credit rating low enough to scare away the hungriest of loan sharks
- Being denied a first loan, credit card or apartment rental because of a crime committed 10-15 years earlier (the passage of time makes this crime very hard to clear up)
- Being denied access to college or a new job
- Having a warrant out for her arrest for crimes that she didn’t commit
In the same way that you can’t protect your children from every bruise and scrape, you can’t entirely remove the risk of identity theft. You can, however, prevent or soften the fall if it does happen. Take these steps first:
Stop giving out your child’s personal information.
Until you are confident that it is absolutely necessary to receive the services desired, withhold their personal information. More than 80 percent of organizations that ask for your child’s Social Security Number don’t actually need it to establish services. If you must give it, ask them how they will use it, how long they will keep it and how it will be protected while they have it. Vigilance is highly effective. Never carry your child’s SSN with you.
Order a free credit report for your child at least once a year.
All three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) offer one free credit report per year per individual. Order one for your child at the same time you order yours and review them both for any red flags indicating fraudulent activity. I recommend that you order the first one (Equifax) right now; order a second report (Experian) in four more months; order the third report (TransUnion) four months after that and then repeat the process the following year. For a more convenient option, use an identity monitoring services for you and your family.
If you find evidence of fraudulent activity, contact the police, the source of the fraud and all three credit bureaus.
Filing a police report helps to establish your child’s innocence in an official way. Have the credit bureaus FREEZE your child’s credit for maximum protection. Keep detailed records of all correspondence between yourself, the police, the merchant and the credit bureaus. It will come in handy should you ever find yourself in court, as I did.
Educate your children on the importance of protecting their personal information.
Teach them about the value of their personal information: their name, address, phone numbers, email address, Social Security Number and any passwords and PIN numbers. Reinforce that they own their private information and that it should not be shared with friends, over the internet or with anyone whom they don’t know or trust. Education is absolutely the best financial gift you will ever give to them.
Because you love and protect your children as much as I do, you should start this process immediately. In the case of child identity theft, an ounce of prevention is worth a lifetime of financial security. Don’t let the center of your universe become just another statistic.