A few years ago I learned of a boy in our church whose stepfather was using his social security number to obtain work. His stepfather, it turned out, was an illegal alien. Although, this guy probably did not intend any true malice to his stepson, there is still no telling the damage that he did to this poor kid's credit before the boy even got out of grade school.
By now, most people use personal shredders and e-mail filters to protect themselves from identity thieves. However, there is a growing trend of children being the targets of these crooks. There are several reasons for this increase in theft of child identities. Children in our country are assigned a social security number almost immediately at birth. With that number comes a clean credit history. Moreover, it is often years before the child has any financial dealings that would require the child to keep an eye on his credit. If a thief can get his hands on a toddler's social security number, he may have as many as eighteen years to run up credit card debt and cause other mayhem.
The Better Business Bureau reports that in 2006, identity fraud cost United States citizens an estimated $56.6 billion. The United Postal Service estimates that more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft/fraud last year. Nevertheless, by taking some basic precautions and teaching your children to protect their personal information can go a long way to protecting their future.
1. Teach your child not to give personal information.
2. Shred all papers to be thrown away that contain account numbers or Social Security numbers. Be sure to use a cross-cut shredder that cuts both vertically and horizontally. It makes it much more difficult for a dumpster diving thief to reassemble shredded documents.
3. Store your child’s Social Security card in a safe place at home or in a safe deposit box. That means you should not carry your child's Social Security card with you in your wallet or purse. You would not believe the number of clients I have seen packing that thing around with them.
4. If you receive a credit application in the mail, don't ignore it or laugh it off, investigate. This could be a red flag that your child’s identity has been compromised. The earlier you get on correcting possibly identity fraud, the easier it is to fix it.
5. If you have reason to believe there may be fraud, write (certified return receipt) to the three credit reporting agencies and ask for a credit report in your child’s name. A child should not have a credit report, because minors are unable to enter into contracts. You can find a sample letter and addresses here.
6. If you discover a credit report, ask to have all accounts, applications and collection notices removed, and have a free security freeze put on the file.
7. If you think there may be a problem, contact the Social Security Administration for a copy of an earnings statement for your child. If it shows that your child has earned wages, it could indicate theft. Details and forms are available at here.
In our modern world, this is just another area where we, as parents, must remain ever vigilant.