Identity theft isn’t anything new. You see it on TV shows and movies, you read about it in the newspaper, and you’re warned about it every time you check your bank statement online. But when it comes to the identity of our children—children who have yet to establish a credit history or even open a checking account—it’s important that we look at the crime of identity theft from a different angle.
According to the FTC, there were more than 10,000 identity theft complaints regarding victims under the age of 18 in 2006 alone—up from 6,500 in 2003.
What identity thieves are doing is finding out the social security number of a minor, using the minor’s name, and then applying for credit cards and loans with a clean and clear credit history. Keep in mind, people under the age of 18 technically aren’t allowed to enter into binding contracts with creditors. The problem here is that a person’s age isn’t tied to their social security number (which kind of baffles me). Unfortunately, this goes hand-in-hand with the fact that credit reporting agencies and the credit issuers take applications—which are often filled out online—at face value.
As an article in creditcards.com pointed out, the fact that tweens and teens are giving out more than enough personal information on social networks doesn’t help lessen the problem—in fact, it’s only making it worse. I think most parents would agree that it’s enough for a youth football program or a Girl Scout agency to ask for your child’s personal information, but with the added pressure of info-hoarding social networks exploiting our children’s private information to third-party advertisers and registered sex offenders, it’s getting harder and harder to protect them.
Nevertheless, like with many vulnerabilities that our children are facing online, we as parents must do what we can to counterattack identity theft. One way parents can protect their child’s identity is by requesting a credit report under their name and social security number. Now, as the article in creditcards.com points out, this is no easy task due to the fact that you can’t simply check a minor’s credit history by going online. What parents have to do is “make a request in writing from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. It’s important to ask that a search include the social security number—not just the child’s name and birth date.” The reason for this, as mentioned before, is because identity thieves change the birth date to an older one.
Let it be known, however, that credit reporting agencies strongly recommend that you only request a minor’s credit report if you have strong suspicion that their identity may be at risk. The process is long and frustrating as these credit reporting agencies require a multitude of identification forms to prove who you and your child are—an ironic process that makes this whole situation even more worrisome.
One mother, Tanya Allen from Ohio, was shocked to find that her teen son’s identity had been used to accumulate a $58,000 debt. It was as simple as an administrative laptop being stolen from his school.
“My husband and I do as much as we can to protect our own identities,” says Allen. “We pull our own credit reports, but never once gave a thought to pulling up my son’s.”
Being that Allen works for a credit agency, she is well aware of the effect that a bad credit record can have on a minor.
“He’s about to go to college,” says Allen, who has talked with her son several times about the impact of a stolen identity. “He does not know the depth of how this could continue to affect him. He’s going to have to get waivers from each one of those creditor stating that this indeed was not him, someone else used this information. “
Parents, consider Tanya Allen’s story a wake-up call. Even she, an employee at a credit agency, someone fully aware of the statistics and the effects, was shocked to find that her own son’s identity had been stolen, and in some ways, forever tarnished. With that said, make sure that you question the people who ask for your child’s personal information. Ask them why they need it, who’ll be receiving it, and if it’s even necessary for them to have to begin with. And remember, when it comes to online requests for personal information, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is meant to protect your children’s privacy. You can be sure that any website that abides by COPPA won’t ask for risky personal information like your child’s SSN, phone number, or address.