Child identity theft occurs when a minor’s identity is used by another person for personal gain. The perpetrator may be a family member or someone known by the family. It could also be a complete stranger who purposely targets children. Because of the lengthy time between the theft of the information and the discovery of the crime, children are a primary target for identity thieves. The period between malicious use of the identity and discovery of that use can be many years, usually happening when the child reaches eighteen and starts to establish their own credit file.
There are multiple ways in which the identity of a child may be stolen. The most likely targeted areas for thieves stealing children identities are medical offices and schools. You take your child to the dentist or the pediatrician. The records created by those visits are now being stored on a computer hard drive. The same applies to the schools your children attend. Their information will be in a computer system on a hard drive.
Additionally, many records are now being stored in an electronic format. This opens the door to a thief if any office is using an unsecured wireless network. There are times when those records may be accessed remotely by the office staff. It is hoped that every office has a secure network and that anyone who accesses that network from the outside does so with a secure VPN tool. If they don’t understand how secure their network is, then they are gambling on when the system might be hacked into.
There are some cases that appear to be identity theft but are not. Receiving a pre-approved credit card offer in your child’s name might upset you as a parent. However, it might only be an innocent marketing tool sent by an affiliate of your bank because you opened a college fund for your child. A quick check of credit reports will help you sort out the truth. Currently, all three reporting agencies are automated systems. You should contact them and request a credit report for your child. If you are told that there is no credit report, that is good news. The reality is that a credit report should not exist until that child’s first credit application as an adult. Minors cannot legally establish credit, and so there should be no supporting credit file for a child.
Parents or relatives of child/victims are usually the first to notice something is not quite right. Discovery often comes:
- When attempting to open a savings account or college fund for the child. In this scenario, a parent discovers that there is already an account with that Social Security number or that the new account is denied due to a bad check record
- When numerous credit cards, checks, pre-approved credit card offers or bank statements are received in the name of the child
- When collection agencies call or send letters about accounts supposedly opened by the child
- When a teen is denied the right to get a driver’s license because DMV records show that another person has a license with that SSN as ID.
- When law enforcement comes to the door with a warrant for an arrest of the child
Child victims who have now reached adulthood typically find out in the same manner as parents of child victims of identity theft, when they:
- Are denied credit, mortgage or loan for a vehicle or college tuition
- Receive collection notices in the mail or by telephone
- Are denied tenancy, utility or phone service
- Are denied driver’s license renewal
- Have been receiving bills or credit cards they never requested, perhaps for years
- Are arrested for an activity they never committed
- Are denied SSI or welfare services
If you suspect there is a child identity theft case in progress, and you are the child’s parent or court-appointed guardian, you may write the three Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) to see if there are credit reports in that child’s Social Security number. When you write to the agencies, place the following items in your cover letter:
- Child’s full name
- Child’s Social Security number
- Your name
- Your address
- Your relationship to the child or children in question
- Request for a search for a credit report in the child’s Social Security number. Remember - the imposter may be using a different name and most definitely a different birthdate.
- A copy of the credit report, if one exists, be mailed to you immediately
You should also include any documentation showing that you have legal custody of the child if you are divorced or have legal guardianship of the child. Each Credit Reporting Agency has its own guidelines as to what must be included along with your request. These guidelines can be found here. Do not order a report on a child unless you have a reason to do so. If you have no reason to suspect child identity theft, you may cause problems by creating a new report due to your multiple inquiries.