FAQs: Children and Identity Theft

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What is child identity theft?

Child identity theft occurs when thieves steal children's personally identifiable information (PII), especially Social Security numbers, for criminal purposes such as opening accounts, making fraudulent charges, and signing up for government services and benefits.

Are children more vulnerable to identity theft than adults?

Partly because of their unused credit and Social Security numbers, children are prime targets for identity thieves. In fact, they're targeted for such crimes 35 times more often than adults.

How will I know if my child’s PII has been used for fraudulent purposes?

A child's identity theft can go undetected for years. Red flags for child identity theft include:

  • An active credit report in your child's name. Most people don't check their credit until they want to rent an apartment, get a credit card, or apply for a loan, but it is important to check your child's credit report before he or she needs to use credit.
  • Notification from the IRS that your child's Social Security number showed up on someone else's tax return.
  • Ineligibility for government services because someone else is getting paid with your child's Social Security number.
  • Receiving unsolicited mail addressed to your child.

I’m often asked to provide my child’s personally identifiable information—to schools, doctor’s offices, even sports teams. Should I refuse to give this information?

Avoid giving out your child's Social Security number whenever possible; even the last four digits are valuable. Politely ask if you can give another identifier. You can also ask the school to leave your child's PII out of directories and other contact lists. If your child takes part in any other activities (sports, band, etc.), see if their personal information or picture will be shared with the public.

In addition, you can ask the school which faculty members have access to your child's PII(teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.) and how they will protect it.

My child loves to play online games and connect with friends on social media. Do these activities increase the risk of identity theft?

Online games and social media encourage users to share their daily interactions, struggles, ambitions, and opinions—not to mention their photos and videos—with "friends" around the world. But the more children and teens share online, the more vulnerable they are.

  • Talk to your children about the permanency of the Internet and the importance of safe sharing online.
  • Personal information should never be revealed via email, social networks, or websites.
  • Links and attachments should not be clicked at random.
  • For children aged 8 to 10, the Center for Identity's game Beat the Thief helps clarify what is safe to share online in a fun and interactive way.
  • Parents can check out our learning module on safe social media practices to learn how best to guide your children in their online interactions.

I use social media myself to share pictures of and stories about my child with friends and relatives far away. Does this increase our risk for identity theft?

Some personal information may seem innocuous and safe to share, but the Center for Identity's Identity Ecosystem Project has found that even small details can be vulnerable. Cyberthieves can use tidbits like a mother's maiden name, a child's name, and a child's birth date to dig up even more valuable information.

If you choose to share news and photos of your children online, keep your privacy settings as locked down as possible. Share your child's information only with a few trusted friends and family members and save the most sensitive details for the next family reunion.

What should I do if my child is an identity theft victim?

  • Determine if your child has a credit report. (Hint: they shouldn't!) Contact the three biggest credit reporting agencies (CRAs):
    Experian (888-397-3742)
    Equifax (800-525-6285)
    TransUnion (800-680-7289 or childidtheft@transunion.com)
  • Keep records of all your calls and letters to these companies.
  • If there is credit activity in your child's name, a fraud alert can be placed on the account, so that businesses must first verify your identity before responding to any credit requests. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open fraudulent accounts in your child's name. To activate a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit reporting agencies listed above (orannualcreditreport.com), and ask that one be placed on your child's account. At your request, the agency you contact can also alert the other two agencies on your behalf.
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Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy. IDWise offers clear and accessible resources to empower citizens—both online and offline—to be better informed and make smarter choices to protect their personal information.

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Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy.

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