Your children might not be old enough to swipe a credit card or take out a loan, but you still need to keep an eye on their credit.
Kids can be victims of identity theft, too, and it often goes unnoticed by parents for years. Typically, children don’t find out something is wrong with their credit until they grow up and get rejected for a student loan or aren’t able to get a credit card.
All thieves need to obtain a fraudulent credit card or other loan is a child’s Social Security number, says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of The Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps identity theft victims.
Here’s what parents should know:
How would someone get a kid’s Social Security number?
It could be stolen in a data breach. Last year, for example, children’s Social Security numbers were exposed in hacks of health insurance companies. A child’s Social Security number can also get into the wrong hands from school forms and paper work. (Always question why a school needs a child’s Social Security’s number on a form; it may not be necessary to provide the number, says Velasquez.) A family member who knows the kid’s Social Security number may also use it to create fraudulent accounts.
What are the signs that someone is using my kid’s information to open accounts?
Mailed preapproved credit offers in your child’s name, or calls from debt collectors.
Is there a way to check if someone is using my kid’s credit?
Yes. You can do so for free by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and ask to check if your child has a credit report. They will ask you for your child’s Social Security number and may ask to mail in other forms to prove you are the kid’s parent or guardian.
If there is no credit report for your child, that’s a good sign — most kids should not have one.
To correct any fraud, you’ll need to work with the credit reporting agencies and contact the creditors.
Is freezing my child’s credit report a good idea?
If your child has a credit report due to fraud, it should be frozen immediately to prevent thieves from using it again. You’ll be given a number that will be your child’s key to unfreezing their credit report when they need to. It’s a number you need to be certain you can hold on to for several years, especially if your child is young. Losing the number, or forgetting that you placed the freeze, can cause problems and delay removing the freeze.