Many parents assume that their children are safe from identity theft because of their young age and lack of credit history. In fact, the opposite is true.
For identity thieves, children can be the perfect mark.
While adults may be targeted by thieves for the money in their accounts, a child represents an entirely different type of opportunity—a clean slate for opening new lines of credit that the child’s parents may not notice until years down the road. One million children were impacted by identity fraud in the US in 2017, according to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study.
The Worrying Trend of Young Children’s Data Being Sold on the Dark Web
Security researchers have reported a concerning identity theft trend, especially for parents of young children. Cybercriminals have recently begun targeting children—even infants—in order to take advantage of their clean, unmonitored credit.
In some cases, the stolen data is being advertised on the dark web for the purpose of committing tax fraud, but more often, criminals use it to open credit card accounts, get loans, and stain what would otherwise be the child’s clean credit.
The Good News: You Can Take Steps to Better Protect Your Child from Identity Theft
Fortunately, there are steps that parents can take to help better protect their children from identity theft at every stage—from birth to school-aged years to young adults starting out on their own. Many of these recommendations can be applied to all ages—and even used by parents to help better protect themselves.
7 Steps to Help Better Protect Infants and Young Children
- Protect physical information – Try to avoid carrying documents in your wallet that disclose your child’s Social Security number or other Personally Identifying Information (PII). Instead, keep important documents locked up at home or in a safe deposit box.
- Store safely or shred documents that contain your child’s information – For electronic or paper documents that you need to keep, choose a safe location. For documents that you can dispose of, shred them first.
- Provide less information about your child on forms – Consider holding back some information, such as your child’s Social Security number, middle name, and date of birth, when filling out forms. In some cases, you may be able to use your own identifying information instead, which can be easier to monitor for potential problems. Also consider asking if you could use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
- Be aware of events that may put information at risk – Pay particular attention to certain circumstances, such as having an adult in your household who might be tempted to use a child’s identity to start over, losing a wallet, purse or important paperwork, experiencing a break-in at your home, or being notified of a data breach at your child’s school, doctor’s office, or another location.
- Exercise caution on social media Be careful when sharing personal information online about your child, such as birthday or city of birth, that could be of value to an identity thief.
- Consider a child credit freeze or credit report lock – Consider freezing or locking your child’s credit reports until he or she is old enough to use credit. A credit report freeze or lock restricts access to your child’s credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your child’s name.
- Consider filing taxes early – Consider filing taxes as early as possible to help prevent criminals from cashing in on your refund, including a dependent tax credit, before you do.
Tips for School-Aged Children, Teenagers, and Young Adults
For ways to better protect school-aged children, teenagers, or young adults starting out on their own, download the white paper, “Child Identity Theft: What Parents Need to Know From Birth to Teenage Years.”
How to Report a Suspected Problem
- If you believe you or your child has been the victim of identity theft, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- If you believe your child’s school or district has acted inappropriately with his or her data, file a written complaint with the US Department of Education.
- If you believe a website collected information from your child or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC at the FTC Complaint Assistant.
- If you believe you have been a victim of tax identity theft, refer to the IRS fact sheet for taxpayers for more information.
- If you or your child sees offensive online content or other criminal behavior, document the activity and report the issue to local law enforcement or the local office of the FBI.
If you suspect an online predator, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.