It’s hard to believe that there’s even more to worry about when it comes to identity theft, but here it is: cases involving children.
Thieves are finding children’s identities fertile ground: They steal the Social Security number of a minor and then use it to open credit cards, take out loans or apply for public assistance, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Fertile ground because parents rarely think to check on whether their child has fallen prey to this kind of imposter, so no one knows it’s happened until years later when it comes time for student loans or a kid’s first credit card.
In fact, the reporting agency Equifax estimates that this kind of identity theft will affect one in four children when they become adults and try to open their own accounts.
Last year, more than 1 million children in the U.S. were victims, resulting in $2.6 billion in losses, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.
How worried should parents be about this? “Unfortunately, they should be deeply concerned,” Eva Velasquez, head of the Identity Theft Resource Center, said in an interview. “It’s one of those things happening at significant rates that we’re not necessarily paying attention to.”
The resource center suggests taking advantage of a free one-time check by the Experian credit reporting agency to see whether there’s a credit report for your child. Go to https://www.experian.com/lp/child-id-scan.html?cc=van_tvr_childscan
Experts also suggest parents monitor any activity under their child’s name with the other major companies – TransUnion and Equifax – at least once a year.
The other precautions basically come down to education, Velasquez said. For example, tell your teens that it’s not a good idea to announce on social media that they have gotten their first driver’s license – complete with a photo that reveals the number, Velasquez says.
She likens it to teaching your kids how to brush their teeth – protecting their ID is just as important.
Teach them to “think before they post, don’t overshare and be good stewards of their information.”
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There’s another safety precaution you can take against any kind of identity theft: placing a freeze on credit.
The good news is that taking that step is about to get a lot easier, not to mention cheaper.
Starting on Sept. 21, consumers will be able to place a lock on their credit for free. That means that someone who stole your identity will be unable to open credit cards in your name.
Federal legislation passed in the wake of the huge Equifax data breach last year eliminated a patchwork of state-by-state procedures and charges for requesting a freeze.
It’s a good idea to consider taking this step, but remember that lifting the freeze when you want to open a new account or make a large purchase “isn’t instantaneous,” so a little planning is in order, the Identity Theft Resource Center says.
Some experts recommend opening an account for a child, with the express purpose of then freezing it as a layer of protection.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at email@example.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.