Child Identity Theft: Prevention, Signs, Mitigation


By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

Child identity theft occurs when personal information of a minor child is exposed or stolen and used for fraudulent purposes, for example, to obtain a credit card or loan, sign up for utility service, or even acquire medical care.  According to a recent study, children are twice as likely to become fraud victims than adults after a data breach.   

Identity thieves love to steal children’s identities because their credit is generally “pristine;” it has never been used. Furthermore, since a child does not become aware that their identity has been stolen until they’re old enough to apply for credit, the fraud can continue undetected for years. 

A recent study shows that more than one million children had their identity stolen in 2017; 66% of child victims are younger than eight; and 60% of child victims know the perpetrator. Minors are more likely to be victimized by somebody they know.

The best way to protect your child from identity theft is to prevent it. Here are a few tips: SSNs are often used as identifiers when another identifier would be just as useful. If you are asked for a SSN, including by your child’s school, don’t provide it unless it is absolutely necessary (for example, when your child is filing a tax return); Educate your child about safe information practices online and offline, including the importance of using encrypted sites to transmit sensitive information; Keep children’s sensitive physical data like Social Security cards and birth certificates secured and out of sight; Shred personal documents before disposal; If your child has a credit report because they have a line of credit, (for example, they’re an authorized user on your account) place a credit freeze on the report. Credit freezes prevent identity thieves from establishing new credit (but this is only one form of identity theft).

Be watchful for signs of child identity theft. If you get mail indicating that your child is “an adult” (a jury summons, IRS correspondence, collection calls), this may be an indication he/she has been victimized. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission suggests that when your child turns 16, you should check (contact the three major credit reporting agencies) to see if they have a credit report: if your child is a minor without a credit history and has a credit report, this is a good indication they’re an identity theft victim, as the agencies don’t intentionally compile credit information for children under 13.

If your child is a victim, take measures to minimize the damage: File a police report. You will need it to clear your child’s name. Call involved financial institutions and explain that your child is a victim of identity theft. Ask them to close fraudulent accounts. Contact each credit reporting agency and place a credit freeze in your child’s file to prevent further damage. File an identity theft report with the FTC; the FTC doesn’t investigate individual complaints, but its database is available to law enforcement agencies looking for trends and other victims.

Keep a log with dates and notes about your steps to clear your child’s name.

Billions of records have been exposed through data breaches and insecure information handling at companies we’ve trusted to keep our info safe, but you can still take steps to be vigilant about your child’s (and your) personal information.