Child identity theft is a growing problem. In fact, The Center for Identity estimates that a child is 35 times more likely to have his information stolen than an adult. 

Why is a child’s identity so attractive to a thief? For starters, ­a child’s social security number (SSN) is untainted. A SSN that has no credit history or problems is attractive because it’s easier for a thief to combine a child’s unused SSN (rather than an adult’s SSN) with a new name and address.

Another issue is that securing a child’s SSN is much easier. In many circumstances the culprit ends up being a family member or another person known by the family, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). Social security numbers also can be found on forms for schools and sports leagues, where multiple people can access such documents.

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Thieves also like stealing kids' SSNs because the fraud often goes undetected for years, since kids are not applying for credit or monitoring their identities. Most likely it will not be discovered until the child applies for his first line of credit or the parents experience one of these other warning signs, according to the ITRC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

  • The child cannot open a savings account or college fund (because the SSN is on another account)
  • A child receives numerous credit card applications, bills or bank statements in his name
  • A teen cannot get a driver’s license (because another person has a license with that SSN)
  • The child receives calls or letters from collection agencies about accounts he has not opened
  • Law enforcement comes with a warrant for the child’s arrest
  • The child is turned down for government benefits (because another account is using the child’s SSN)
  • A child gets a notice from the IRS stating she didn’t pay her income taxes

Practice prevention

While no action can guarantee an ID won’t be stolen, you can minimize your child’s risk by taking these six proactive measures.

1. Share your child’s SSN only when you trust the recipient, the FTC advises. Challenge people who request such information, and ask if you can use an alternate identifier for your child.

2. Keep birth certificates and social security cards in a secure place out of the sight of others, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition suggests. 

3. Manage your child’s social media privacy settings and monitor what they are sharing online. Discuss with her the dangers of sharing too much personal information. Her social media page is a prime target for thieves to gather personal information, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition warns.

4. If your child spends time online, teach her how to spot an authentic website from one set up to steal information.

5. Shred all documents that contain account numbers or SSNs before you throw them out, the ITRC says.

6. Teach children never to give out personal information over the phone, in a chat room or instant message or anywhere online unless you can be completely certain you are dealing with a legitimate company.

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Repair the damage

Cleaning up the damage created by an identity thief will be time consuming and frustrating. If you believe your child’s identity may be compromised, check to see if he or she has a credit report by contacting any of the three credit reporting companies: Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742) or TransUnion (childidtheft@transunion.com).

Ask for a report with your child’s SSN. Hopefully, you will receive a response stating, “There is no report.” That would mean no one has used your child’s SSN, the ITRC says. But if a report is generated and the child’s information is being used, the FTC suggests you take these steps:

  • Inform the credit-reporting agency of what is on the report. Ask them to remove all accounts, account inquires and collection notices from files associated with your child’s SSN.
  • Contact businesses where your child’s SSN was used. Ask them to close those accounts and flag the transactions that resulted from identity theft.
  • Place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report.
  • File a fraud alert with the FTC.
  • File a police report. 

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Brian Fourman is a stay-at-home dad who writes about home safety and personal finance.