Video: Protecting your child from ID theft

You monitor your child's play time, interaction with strangers, even their online activity. But there is one thing most parents wouldn't think of monitoring: their child's credit report.

"I've never thought of it before," says Amy White, a parent in Austin, Texas. "I didn't think it would be an issue or even anything I should worry about because they don't have credit cards and I don't intend on them getting credit cards for a long time, so I just never thought about it."

In fact, your child may have a credit card, an apartment, a car and thousands of dollars' worth of debt in their name. A Carnegie Mellon study scanned the credit reports of 40,000 children and found 4,000 of them, or a whopping 10 percent, had their identities compromised. In fact, children were targeted 51 times more often than adults.

Frank Abagnale, the notorious con artist turned FBI agent depicted in the movie "Catch Me if You Can," also serves as an adviser to the credit bureaus. He says you would be surprised just how attractive your child's Social Security number is to thieves.

"The younger a child is, the more valuable their identity is because as a child's identity, the child will not know that I'm using their identity for a long period of time before that child seeks credit or any other service using their identity."

So how can you protect your child from identity theft?

  • Contact the three major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion -- and request your child's credit report. Each bureau has a different procedure, which may involve mailing in documents such as a birth certificate and Social Security card.
  • Use an identity protection service such as AllClearID, which will do a free one-time scan of your child's Social Security number and fix any fraud discovered.
  • You can also pay for a credit monitoring service such as Experian's Family Secure product, so that if anyone tries to get credit using your child's information, you will be notified.

But, perhaps the best way to protect your child is to make their Social Security number is difficult to get. Sports teams and day cares might ask for that, but you can say no and offer alternative information instead. You should also ask your child's school how they are protecting that sensitive information and who they might be giving it to.

You'll also want to shred all documents you don't need that have your child's personal information on them. 

And make sure your children also know to never give away their personal information, or fill out forms online that ask for their Social Security number without checking with you first.

We asked retired special agent Sean McCleskey, now with the University of Texas Center for Identity, just what these thieves might want to do with your child's information.

"With that Social Security number you could go out and purchase a vehicle, you could get lines of credit, you could get a loan, you could theoretically even apply for a home loan if you wanted to," he says. "You could also establish a new identity, say if you were here illegally. Or, say you were trying to hide your true identity -- you could use that child's Social Security number to create basically an alias for you."

If you do discover fraud on your child's account, the Federal Trade Commission recommends taking the following steps:

  • Call all three credit bureaus and ask the fraudulent activity be removed.
  • Do the same for every business where your child's information was used.
  • Place a fraud alert on your child's credit report -- which tells businesses to take extra precautions if anyone tries to apply for credit with your child's information.
  • Consider asking for a credit freeze, which restricts access to the credit report.
  • File an Identity Theft Report with the FTC, which you can do online, and bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your local police department, along with proofs of identification and residency.

Fraudulent activity can be fixed, but if you wait to find out about it until your child is 18 years old and trying to find a job or get a car, it could take away precious time they could be using to build their future instead of getting rid of debt they never created. 

See related: How to check your child's credit report, Protect your child's data, privacy at school: 5 tips, Synthetic identity theft crimes growing fast, targeting kids

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Updated: 02-22-2019