• Robert Ryerson

4 Ways You Can Protect Your Child's Identity from Being Stolen

Identity theft has been on the rise in recent years as criminals find new ways to steal and use other people's personal information for financial gain. For instance, many leveraged the COVID-19 pandemic to create texts and robocall scams about virus cures and vaccines, while others took advantage of federal government stimulus packages to apply for fraudulent payments and loans. Nearly 400,000 people in the United States reported government documents or benefits fraud in 2021 and, on March 1, 2022, the office of the White House announced a series of actions to address rising instances of identity fraud.

Identity theft doesn't just affect adults. Criminals are increasingly targeting children as they present a blank slate and typically don't have credit reports, meaning it can sometimes take years for their parents or the child to figure out they've had their identity stolen. According to Javelin Strategy & Research's 2021 report on identity theft, nearly one in 50 American children each year are victims of identity fraud. An older study, carried out by Carnegie Mellon's CyLab, found that children are actually 51 times more vulnerable to having their identity stolen than their parents.

Protect your child's personal information - and credit - by following these four suggestions.

Secure Their Personal Documents

Perhaps the most alarming statistic concerning child identity theft is that, in almost three out of four cases, the fraudster has some sort of relation with or knows the child. Most often, these are family members in financial distress that tell themselves that they will fix their problems and restore the child’s credit before the parents are even aware. In these cases, the criminal uses the child's personal information, often to take out fraudulent loans or to receive tax credits on their annual return. They might even use the child's information to create fake identities, known as synthetic identity theft.

Knowing this, it's critical to keep any papers or cards with your child's personal information in a safe and secure place. This includes their birth certificate, Social Security card, medical insurance card, and any other legal documents. You should also avoid giving out information, like their Social Security number, to other parties unless it's absolutely necessary. Ask their doctor if you could just provide the last four digits and, if giving it to their school, make sure to ask who can access it and how it will be protected.

Avoid Oversharing Online

While it's understandable to want to show off your child and all of their accomplishments online, it's important to avoid sharing too much information. With so many different social media platforms, fraudsters can easily piece together a synthetic identity profile for your child if you aren't discrete. Avoid posting their birth date, your address, and other relevant information.

If you must share birthday party pictures on Facebook or another account, be sure to restrict your profile so that only your friends can see. You should also speak with other immediate family members, relatives, and close friends to make sure they know not to share too much online.

"Set a family policy around what should and should not be shared, and be sure to have a conversation with grandparents as well," notes Liz Lasher, vice president of fraud and financial crimes at FICO, speaking to CNBC. "Grandsharenting (grandparents oversharing photos on social media) is a thing, and has been contributing to the child identity theft problem."

Freeze Their Credit

Monitoring yours and your child's credit regularly is a great way to check to see if anyone has been illegally using your personal information. Beginning in 2020, Americans can receive as many as six free credit reports per year until 2026. However, freezing your child's credit is a more proactive and responsible approach to protect against identity fraud. Credit freezes ensure that, even if they did secure your child's personal information, fraudsters will be unable to open unauthorized accounts in their name.

It doesn't cost anything to initiate a credit freeze for your child, but it can be time-consuming considering you'll have to request them with each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Once complete, you'll receive a confirmation letter, which should be stored in a secure place as it'll be required to unfreeze their credit in the future.

Check Their Social Media Privacy Settings and Educate Them about Online Risks

Children are using social media more and are starting at younger ages. According to Common Sense Media, the amount of children ages 8 and up with active accounts on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram is up 17 percent from before the start of the pandemic. Scammers know this and try to take advantage of over-trusting and gullible children who might not know the risks of sharing too much personal information.

If you are allowing your child to use one of these social media platforms, check their account to make sure it has all possible privacy measures activated and talk with them about the importance of not sharing personal information, especially with people they don't know. You can also use Norton, Google Family Link, or other parental control software to monitor your child's actions online.