“My child is not at risk.”
“Why does it even matter at that age?”
These are some of the common responses parents often say when they first hear about the issue of child identity theft. But there are some big myths out there that deserve to be busted.
Kids with small bank accounts (or none at all) don’t have anything to lose, so identity theft is really no big deal.
Kids who have had their IDs stolen can become subject to harassing credit collection practices, and credit histories that are nearly impossible to fix once they try to get a student loan, cell phone, or rent an apartment.
Ignoring the problem only hurts the big banks so we’re cool, right? Only financial data is lost when a child has his ID stolen and the banks have to eat all but $50 of the cost.
Identity theft can forever damage a child’s Social Security. The Social Security number has become, by default, a national ID card which is used as a portal to access to driver’s licenses, health insurance records and benefits, gun licenses, real estate ownership and, of course, credit to purchase a vast array of goods and services.
Very young children are not at risk of ID theft. Parents should wait to check their child’s credit histories until the late teens for fear of creating credit files and further harming a child’s credit.
Although the credit agencies are not supposed to have any data on children under the age of 18, they do when someone takes a child’s name or Social Security number and uses that information to create a synthetic identity. Clearing up incorrect records can take a very long time—months or, in extreme cases—YEARS!
In many cases, children are even issued Social Security numbers that already have damaged credit histories attached to them—I call it a ‘Financial Birth Defect’—and parents have no way of knowing whether their child has received a clear SSN without taking action on their own. Although this is not the most common variety of child identity theft, it happens more often than you think and more often than it should!
Child identity theft is only a problem where an actual theft has occurred.
Clearing a file can be difficult whether damaged records are the result of mistaken identity; file confusion—where a person mistakenly uses a SSN one or more digits off of the correct number; or fraudulent use—where a criminal is actively using someone else’s information to attain credit for goods or services or to falsify and steal medical services and later skip out on the bills.
Parents should go to all three credit bureaus and simply check their child’s credit along with their own annual free credit check.
This is a tough myth because it should be true. However, the credit agencies are not legally supposed to have any children’s credit data, so performing a search based on Name + Birthdate + SSN will likely elicit a “File Not Found” response from the agencies. Child IDs are extremely valuable because they can be tied to a DIFFERENT name and a DIFFERENT birthday and a DIFFERENT gender and so on.
Searching for a child’s credit report is different than searching for your own.
A proper search for child ID theft includes separate searches for individual pieces of information, like a SSN, for example. A proper search also includes a search of real estate documentation, gun licenses, health records (where possible) and more.
Checking your child’s credit may merely lull you into a sense of false safety until your child actually needs to exercise his good name to drive, get a job, pass a background check or pay for education. At that point, BAM!, all those “files not found” get found and are attached to your child’s future like a ball and chain.
Michelle Dennedy was America’s first Chief Privacy Officer, for Sun Microsystems. When Michelle’s own daughter’s identity was attacked, she vowed that she would never let it happen again. Michelle is now the Editor-in-Chief of The Identity Project, which is sponsored by AllClearID. AllClearID will monitor your child’s identity, notify you securely if it has been compromised, and repair and restore it – at no cost to you.