Q. It appears my 21-year-old daughter's identity has been stolen. I suspect my two other children's identities also have been stolen. What do we do?
A. It can be a lengthy process to set this straight, depending on the depth of the problem, says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of Experian Consumer Direct, part of the Experian credit report agency. First, visit annualcreditreport.com to see if your 21-year-old's identity has been used. You are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three consumer credit-reporting companies through this site. If there is activity, report the identity theft to your local law enforcement agency to document it, Chaplin advises. Identify the banks or financial institutions involved and let them know the activity on your child's account was not hers. Don't ignore debt collectors or others who contact you; send a letter (keep a copy) explaining the situation, Chaplin advises. Consider enrolling your family in a security program that monitors attempts to use your identify, he says.
As for your other two children, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion do not knowingly maintain credit files on minor children, according to annual creditreport.com. "If you suspect that your minor child's information has been used fraudulently, you should contact the credit reporting agencies directly and report the illegal use of your child's information to law enforcement," according to the site. For more information, visit ftc.gov.
Q. Can my baby's identity be stolen?
A. Yes, says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of Experian Consumer Direct, part of the Experian credit report agency. Parents apply for a Social Security number for a newborn to claim him or her as a dependent. "What that creates is a Social Security number that is a potential target for thieves if they're able to get access to it," Chaplin says.
In some ways, a baby or child's identity is more vulnerable than an adult's because a baby or child has never had credit cards. "It's a clean slate," Chaplin says. And parents aren't likely to keep tabs on a child's credit history and may not discover a problem until the child is 18. Even though the child's birth year might raise suspicions among credit card companies, "the thieves are incredibly clever, as they can take that number and attach it to other birthdays," Chaplin says.
Keep the Social Security card locked in a safe place. Don't carry it, and don't leave it anywhere household help, baby sitters or workmen can see it. Chaplin even warned that sometimes family members in financial straits can be tempted. "It's often a crime of opportunity," Chaplin says.
Try to avoid using the number on forms at doctors' offices, and shred anything with the number on it. Get a free credit report periodically for your child to catch any problems. Theft of a baby or child's ID doesn't happen often, but the impact for victims can be long-lasting, Chaplin says.