As adults, we’ve been taught to protect our social security numbers (SSNs) with our lives, but are you watching your child’s SSN?
Children are the fastest-growing targets for identity theft, with an estimated 500,000 new cases a year. Kids make attractive targets for identity thieves because they have no previous credit history. Moreover, the crime could go undetected for years because parents don’t typically check to find out whether their children have credit records.
Credit issuers often don’t verify an applicant’s age. Information on the application is taken at face value, especially when submitted over the phone or online. A company that issues credit in person may ask for a driver’s license, but employees may not recognize a counterfeited license.
In addition, credit reporting agencies and the Social Security Administration don’t share information, so agencies don’t necessarily know that an applicant’s SSN belongs to a minor. Moreover, an applicant’s age becomes “official” in the files of the credit reporting agencies when it is reported on the first credit application. If the first application indicates that the applicant’s age is 24, credit agencies believe the individual is 24 until a dispute is filed and upheld.
Often your child’s school, physician’s office, daycare center, or sport’s team may request his or her SSN. Be sure to ask why it is needed, how it will be used, and how it will be protected. You don’t have to give your child’s SSN to organizations that routinely ask for it. Refuse to give it unless absolutely necessary, such as when enrolling your child in school or applying for a passport.
For a child, the damage caused by identity theft can be devastating because of the length of time that could pass before it is discovered. As noted above, in many instances, the theft isn’t discovered until the child applies for a job or a driver’s license many years later.
How can you protect your child’s credit?
- Never carry your child’s social security card (or SSN written on a piece of paper) in your wallet or purse.
- Educate your children about the importance of protecting personal information, including not sharing passwords, PINs, bank account information, house alarm codes, or any other personal data. Don’t provide this information to your children until they are old enough to understand how to protect it.
- Routinely run a credit report on your child for the presence of a credit file. A credit report only kicks in when a credit history has been established. If you don’t find a credit file, that’s good news. An existing credit report may indicate a problem.
- Guard online social networking sites. These are attractive to thieves who can use them to coax information out of teens.
- Be sure your child’s bank account does not have overdraft protection and that it is only a savings account.
- Teach your child the importance of changing passwords regularly and not giving away personal information on a website without your prior approval.
- Watch for mail arriving at your home in your child’s name. One of the first red flags is a preapproved credit card offer, as it may reveal that your child has an established credit record. It may also mean that his or her personal information has been compromised. Whenever possible, sign up for magazines and other subscriptions in your name rather than in than your child’s.
- Never respond to online or mail offers.
- If your child is old enough to apply for a job, and he or she is asked to provide an SSN, be sure the employer is legitimate—not merely a job off of Craigslist.
Our job as parents is protecting our children, and this includes protecting their credit. Check regularly to determine whether your child has a credit report so you can catch any problem early and save yourself—and your child—time and money.
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Stacy Long is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM practicing at NTrust Wealth Management, 780 Lynnhaven Parkway, Suite 190, Virginia Beach, VA 23452. She offers securities and financial planning as a registered representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, a member firm of FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. She can be reached at 757 301 8520 or at Stacy@ntrustwm.com.
© 2011 Commonwealth Financial Network®