I remember when I was in my early teen years getting a phone call from a “credit card company.” They told me that my mom had told them that she wanted me to open a credit card account and that I was to give them my Social Security number. My first thought was that it seemed strange that my mom would want me to get a credit card, but I was young and impressionable so I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Lucky for me, I had no clue what my Social Security number was so I said that they would have to call my mom and get it from her.
Unfortunately, scams like this are not only commonplace, but on the rise (especially credit card scams and fraud). Criminals prey on the identities of kids because the theft often goes undiscovered for years. It is only when the child applies for college or tries to get a loan that the crime is exposed. By that time, the damage is done, and the child’s credit is ruined. What’s worse, the identity thief is often the child’s own parents, relative, friend, or teacher.
Here are 5 ways parents can protect their children from identify theft:
1. Protect your child’s Social Security number
Paperwork – at a doctor’s office, school, or for extracurricular activities – often asks for a Social Security number. Before you provide your child’s number, confirm that it is really necessary; if not, don’t provide it. Never carry around your child’s Social Security card or number, and destroy all documents that contain the number.
2. Educate your children
After my conversation with the “credit card company,” I talked to my mom about what happened. She then explained to me that she believes that kids and teens should not have a credit card and that the “credit card company” was actually a criminal trying to steal my identity. Educate your children on the importance of keeping their Social Security number secret and make sure that they know never to share their address or phone number on social networking sites, such as Facebook. Once a predator gets hold of a few pieces of vital information, it won’t take them long to piece together the rest.
3. Look for the warning signs
Is your child all of a sudden getting unusual mail, such as credit card applications? That is a sign that something is not right with your child’s credit. If you notice anything strange, do some investigating. If it turns out that your child is in fact an identity theft victim, take immediate action.
4. Monitor your child’s credit
To monitor your child’s credit, you do not need to order a credit report. In fact, your child should not have a credit report at all. Instead, simply ask the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) if a report exists on your child. If it does, then you know that your child’s identity has been stolen, and you need to immediately contact the authorities and an identity theft specialist. Make sure you do not order your child’s credit report because that would unnecessarily open a credit report on them.
5. Do not advertise your child’s name
Many people have cute family decals on the back of their vehicles that show how many people are in the family, their genders, and sometimes even their names. By doing this, parents are unsuspectingly giving criminals valuable information. I have also seen families put signs in their yards congratulating their child for graduating from high school. Not only do criminals now know your child’s name, they also know where he or she lives. This can also put your child at risk for more serious crimes, such as kidnapping and pedophilia.
Protecting children’s identity is an extremely important responsibility of parenthood. If their identity is stolen, there is a good chance their credit will be ruined before they are even old enough to have a need for it. And that is an extremely difficult obstacle to overcome as a young adult.
Has your child’s identity been stolen? What tips do you have to protect your child’s identity?
(Photo Credit: kevindooley)