The rate of identity theft is 51 times higher for children than it is for adults, according to a new study from Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab. And while 76 percent of parents worry about childhood identity theft, only 14 percent use a monitoring service to watch for fraudulent activity. This disconnect in parent awareness and action could be leaving millions of children vulnerable to identity theft.
Identity Theft Can Happen to Any Child
Identity thieves are increasingly stealing children's social security numbers to secure credit cards and loans. Because children are the targets, these thefts can go unnoticed for years, causing logistical nightmares once discovered.
Consider the story of 5-year-old Carter Andrushko, as relayed by NPR. While Carter is not be old enough to even hold a job, the U.S. government thought he’s been working since he was born. When Carter’s mother applied for Medicaid benefits in 2009, she discovered that her son had been the victim of identity theft. She’s been working to sort out the negative ramifications ever since.
Parents: Take Action
Despite increased awareness about the dangers of childhood identity theft, it remains rampant because parents aren't taking preventative action. CyLab's recent study of 42,000 children found that more than 10 percent were already victims of identity theft, and their parents had no idea.
Many people simply don't think to check their children's credit histories—after all, their kids don't use credit, right? It's a good idea to check your child's credit history just as you do your own.
Enlist the help of an identity theft protection company to monitor your child’s social security number. Their services scan for identity thefts and send parents an alert if a child’s identity is compromised.
Identity Theft Warning Signs
How do you know if your child’s identity has been stolen? Warning signs include:
- Unsolicited credit card offers in your child’s name. Credit card offers should never be intentionally sent to minors. Receiving one in your child’s name is a red flag.
- Social Security account statement. These statements track annual contributions and anticipated benefits – receiving an earnings statement indicates someone else is using your child’s identity to illegal obtain employment.
- Bills or collection agency calls for your child. A bill or collection agency call for your child is not a case of mistaken identity – it’s a sign that your child’s identity has been stolen.
Children can unknowingly put their identities at risk when they are online.
- Educate your child about online safety. Discuss the dangers of sharing personal information online. Help your children understand that anything they share, post or write online is recorded forever.
- Use parental controls on the computer. Parental controls let you block objectionable content and even limit computer time.
- Talk to your teen about social media. Tumblr and Instagram are teens’ favorite social media sites; talk to your teen about the dangers of sharing personal information on these sites.