Every U.S. citizen and eligible resident has a Social Security number (SSN). The government uses this number to track your earnings and how many years you work. Most people memorize their SSN because they use it so often.
Your SSN is used when you apply for loans, credit cards, a passport, file taxes, get a driver’s license, buy life insurance… the list goes on. Your Social Security number is essentially an identifier to ensure you’re you.
Because your SSN is mainly used for income tracking purposes, most individuals don’t begin to personally use their SSN until they are in their teens and apply for their first job. However, a study by Carnegie Mellon University found that more than 10% of minors in their sample population had someone else already using their SSN.
Stealing a Child’s Identity
Former imposter and check forger turned FBI security consultant Frank Abagnale said an identity thief would rather steal the SSN of an elementary school student with no money than a middle-aged person worth millions. The reason is because a minor’s SSN is pristine and has never been used, so it’s not linked to any credit file and credit reporting agencies are not monitoring it. It has the potential to take years for the fraud to be detected.
A child’s identity can be stolen when criminals combine a child’s Social Security number with a different date of birth. The most common way criminals gather a child’s personal information is from forms that have been stored improperly or Internet security breaches.
When child experiences identity theft, oftentimes neither the child nor parents even realize it until the child uses his or her SSN for the first time. By this time, their credit history is ruined and it can take years to undo the damage, causing long-term financial strife.
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Protecting Your Child’s Identity
If you are planning on mailing documents that include personal information, bring them to the post office rather than leaving them in your mailbox. Criminals have been known to drive through suburban neighborhoods at night looking for upright red flags.
Many parents start joint savings accounts for their children where they can deposit items such as birthday checks or savings bonds, but opening a bank account means there will be bank statements with your child’s name on them. Robert P. Chappell Jr., a law enforcement professional and author of Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know, states that parents must take the time to opt out of bank marketing materials to avoid having pre-approved credit cards sent in your child’s name. Also, after opening an account, be sure to regularly monitor the child’s credit report.
Have a Discussion
Talk to your child about identity theft and online safety. Children surfing the web are particularly vulnerable to exposing personal information in chat rooms or on social networking sites. If you don’t know how to adjust the privacy settings on different social media sites, learn. You will need to make sure you can show your child how to adjust these settings so their photos, posts, and comments aren’t able to be publicly viewed.
Check Their Credit Report
The FTC recommends that you check to see if your child has a credit line by their 16th birthday. This way, if it has errors due to fraud or misuse, you have time to correct it before your child applies for a job, student loans, or needs to rent an apartment.
Step 2 – Ask for a manual search of your child’s file.
Step 3 – If you discover your child’s information was misused, ask the reporting companies to remove all accounts, inquiries and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.
You can read more details here at the Federal Trade Commission website.
By being proactive about protecting your child’s identity, you are removing the potential for an enormous amount of hardship when they reach adulthood and encounter the problem themselves. Normal life events such as enrolling in college, beginning a career, and starting a family become immensely difficult if your child is digging out from under the burden of a stolen identity and destroyed credit history.
About the writer
Natasha Cornelius, CLU
Senior Editor and Licensed Life Insurance Expert
Natasha Cornelius, CLU, is a writer, editor, and life insurance researcher for Quotacy.com where her goal is to make life insurance more transparent and easier to understand. She has been in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been writing about life insurance since 2014. Natasha earned her Chartered Life Underwriter designation in 2022. She is also co-host of Quotacy’s YouTube series. Connect with her on LinkedIn.