Just like adults, kids can be the target of identity theft. According to a report published by Javelin Strategy & Research, 915,000 U.S. children were victims of identity fraud from July 2021 to July 2022. What’s more, one in every 43 kids had personal information exposed and potentially compromised, thanks to data breaches.
One of the best ways you can prevent someone from stealing your identity is to freeze your credit—and it may be a good idea to do the same for your children. Credit expert John Ulzheimer says children are easy targets because they have no credit history. It’s a blank slate, which makes it easier for someone to open fraudulent accounts and rack up charges in their names.
How to freeze your child’s credit
While freezing your credit tends to be a fairly straightforward process that can usually be completed online, freezing your child’s credit is a bit more involved and must be done through the mail. Each credit bureau has its own protocol for freezing a minor’s credit, and some require more documentation than others. To streamline the process, begin by gathering the following:
- A government-issued ID, like a driver’s license or passport
- A copy of your child's birth certificate (or other proof of guardianship if you aren’t listed as a parent)
- A copy of your child's Social Security card
- A recent utility bill or bank statement as proof of residency.
You must then connect with all three of the national credit bureaus to initiate a credit freeze. Here’s how to do it:
Equifax: Fill out this form, then mail it to the address listed at the bottom with copies of the required documentation.
Experian: Complete this form and send it to the address featured at the center of the page, along with copies of the requested documents. Experian also asks that you provide a previous address if you’ve lived in your current home or less than two years.
TransUnion: Follow the instructions listed here under “How do I freeze for my minor child?” Mail a written request and the required documents to the address provided.
Once your child’s credit file is frozen, you can temporarily or permanently thaw it online, over the phone or by mail.
Watch out for these red flags
Freezing your child’s credit eliminates the need to continually monitor their credit report. But you’ll want to keep an eye out for warning signs that suggest your child’s Social Security number is being misused, such as:
- Receiving pre-approved credit card offers in the mail
- Getting turned down for government benefits
- Getting a notice from the IRS
- Receiving calls or letters about unpaid bills
“Others find out about it when they apply for credit legitimately for the first time and find out their credit report is polluted with stuff that was opened in their name, and they didn’t even know about it,” Ulzheimer says.
The best way to get ahead of it is to proactively check your child’s credit report. If there’s no foul play, there shouldn’t even be a credit file The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are now allowing consumers to pull their credit reports weekly until the end of 2023 at no charge via AnnualCreditReport.com.
Beware of ‘familiar fraud’
Unfortunately, many children are victimized by a family member or close friend who gains access to their Social Security number. According to the Javelin Strategy & Research data mentioned earlier, 67 percent of households with child victims of identity fraud knew the perpetrator. Due to the personal nature of the crime, people may feel uncomfortable filing a police report that names a loved one.
If you find yourself in this situation, Ulzheimer says you have one other option: accepting tacit liability and going through the process of settling the debts yourself. Getting those balances in good standing won’t get those accounts off your child’s credit report, but it will stop any further attempts to collect the debt.
“The problem, however, is that the damage has been done,” Ulzheimer says. “And the byproduct of that is going to remain on this credit report for up to seven years.”
What to do if your child’s identity is stolen
If you do happen to uncover a fraudulent account in your child’s name, you may want to consider filing a police report.
“You have rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act that if you file some sort of report with an enforcement agency, you can take that to the credit bureaus to have that stuff purged and permanently removed,” Ulzheimer says. “You can also get out from any liability issues with respect to the debt.”
You’ll also want to visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the fraud, unlock resources from the Federal Trade Commission and create a recovery plan.
No matter how you choose to move forward, freezing your kids’ credit is one of the best tools for securing their identities and preventing future abuse. The process shouldn’t take more than an hour or so of your time, which is a small price to pay to safeguard their financial future.