Child identity theft is a disturbingly prevalent crime in our nation, affecting millions of children annually. It’s yet another concern you have to deal with as a parent, and it’s natural to be frightened of such a serious crime.
Luckily, most cases of identity theft are preventable if you’re proactive about the security of your child’s personal information. To give you some guidance, this article will show you how to protect your child from identity theft using all the resources available to parents.
The first step toward security is familiarizing yourself with the nature of identity fraud. After learning what you’re up against, you’ll see some effective strategies for minimizing the risk of your child’s data falling into the wrong hands.
What Is Child Identity Fraud?
When talking about identity theft, people often assume impersonation by default. While this type of fraud targets adults, children are at risk of a more elaborate crime—synthetic identity fraud.
Synthetic identity fraud typically combines a child’s personally identifiable information (PII) with fake information to create a new, fake identity. The perpetrator uses the new identity for various purposes, from obtaining loans fraudulently in the child’s name to stealing tax refunds or government benefits.
The most valuable piece of information scammers seek is the child’s Social Security number (SSN). Still, other identifiers like the name or home address can be used. Sensitive information is typically purchased on the Dark Web, where SSNs sell for as little as a dollar.
The reason children’s identities are so appealing to financial criminals is that they’re often unused. They see it as a blank slate that’s easy to manipulate and alter for fraudulent purposes. Besides, SSNs of children born after 2011 are randomized, so it’s harder to connect them to their rightful owners.
Identity theft can have grave consequences, most notably:
- A severely damaged credit score that makes it hard to obtain loans
- Denied student aid and government benefits
- Failure to obtain employment in certain industries as a result of a tarnished credit profile
The best way to prevent such serious complications is to safeguard your child’s SSN and other PII. This involves a methodical, multi-step approach.
How To Prevent Child Identity Theft
To minimize the risk of someone getting ahold of your child’s personal information and using it to create a fake identity, here’s what you should do:
- Talk to your child about the importance of keeping their PII safe
- Don’t reveal their SSN until you’re certain the need for it is legitimate
- Keep sensitive documents out of reach
- Beware of phishing and similar online theft techniques
- Ensure your child doesn’t overshare on social media
- Consider a credit freeze
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service
Teach Your Child To Safeguard Their PII
The sooner your child learns to be vigilant about identity theft, the better their chances of staying safe. Make sure they understand that strangers don’t need any of their information, including the following:
- Home address
- School name
- Email or social media handles
- Any PII (birth date, SSN, etc.)
Let your child know they should always come and talk to you if anyone requests this information. You can help them set a clear line between the data they can share without risk and the information they should never reveal to anyone.
Don’t Share Your Child’s SSN Haphazardly
Very few institutions have a legitimate need for a child’s SSN, most notably:
- The IRS
- Healthcare providers
- Financial institutions
You might assume that other institutions—like your child’s school—can also ask for the SSN, but this isn’t true. Federal law prohibits public schools from requiring it. It’s crucial to remember this because fraudsters might impersonate educational institutions to steal the child’s SSN through different forms and similar tactics.
When in doubt, always ask for additional information to confirm someone truly needs the SSN. Ask if another identifier can be used, and provide your own information instead of the child’s whenever possible.
Protect Documents Containing Your Child’s PII
You should always know who has access to your child’s personal documents and all copies of them. Ideally, you’ll keep them hidden from everyone besides immediate family. Store the documents in a safe spot, and consider investing in a safe.
Make sure to restrict access to the following documents:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Health insurance card
Look Out for Signs of Phishing and Similar Scams
Many phishing strategies are used to steal SSNs and other identifiers. Scammers might impersonate the Social Security Administration (SSA) and other government institutions to manipulate victims into revealing their information.
To avoid such attempts, you should know how to recognize a phishing email and teach your child to do the same. Some common signs of phishing include:
- Generic/strange greetings (e.g., “Dear Sir/Madam”)
- Emails sent from unusual addresses (you can usually click or tap on the sender’s name to reveal the address)
- False sense of urgency (warnings that certain services will be denied unless you take the requested action)
Stay cautious and don’t follow any links or download attachments until you confirm the sender’s identity. They often include malware or lead to spoof pages designed to steal your information. If you’re uncertain about the email’s legitimacy, contact the institution you received it from for confirmation.
Educate Your Child on Responsible Social Media Use
Everything your child posts on social media no longer belongs to them—it’s available for everyone to see and potentially abuse. There have been numerous cases of children’s information and photos being misused, so you and your child should be mindful of the details you post.
Teach your child not to reveal any sensitive data online. They should also be familiar with numerous scams targeting children, such as the following:
|Scam Type||How It Works|
|Fake contests||The scammer pretends to be an influencer running a contest with the goal of stealing information like bank account details, SSNs, etc.|
|Catfishing||The fraudster builds an online relationship with the victim by pretending to be interested in a friendship or romantic engagement, asking for the child’s private information at some point|
|Spoof quizzes||The scammer designs a quiz aimed at harvesting private data (birthday, street address, pets’ names, etc.) and uses the responses to answer security questions and break into accounts|
It’s best to teach your child about these dangers while they’re still young. Monitor their social media use and make sure they can recognize scam red flags.
Freeze Your Child’s Credit Profile
If you’ve ever taken out a loan, you know the importance of a credit profile. Every lender looks at it to determine your creditworthiness and approve the loan. Your child most likely doesn’t have a credit profile, which is precisely why scammers might target them—they use the child’s information to start a clean credit profile and obtain fraudulent loans.
The only way a minor can have a credit profile is if you’ve added them as an authorized user of your credit card or already placed a security freeze on their credit profile. If this isn’t the case, and your child still has one, there’s a high chance they’ve already fallen victim to identity theft.
To prevent this, some parents decide to freeze their children’s profiles. If your child doesn’t have a credit profile, the credit bureau creates one and freezes it immediately. This makes the credit profile inaccessible to new lenders, preventing the opening of new credit accounts.
While this solution is somewhat effective, it’s too narrow to ensure comprehensive protection. As mentioned, fraudsters can use children’s sensitive information for many purposes beyond obtaining credit, so a freeze doesn’t fully protect your child’s identity.
Besides, placing a child credit freeze is a complicated process that involves lots of paperwork. You need to do it separately with all three credit bureaus:
All the effort may not be worth it, as you still wouldn’t get sufficient protection and would need to unfreeze the credit profile anyway once your child is ready to make legitimate loan inquiries.
Use Credit Profile Monitoring Services
Monitoring your child’s credit profile can help prevent identity fraud, but it’s often too challenging for a parent. The best you can do is request your child’s report from the credit bureau occasionally, which leaves lots of room for fraudulent activity that might go unnoticed.
That’s why many parents decide to sign up for ongoing credit profile monitoring. Besides keeping track of the credit profile itself, such services oversee the use of the child’s personal information to proactively detect any red flags.
The main downside of these services is the cost. Many options come with monthly fees, which a typical parent is already buried in. To fix this, Austin Capital Bank created a budget-friendly solution that monitors and builds children’s credit profiles—FreeKick.
FreeKick—Parent-Sponsored Credit Building and Credit Profile Monitoring
FreeKick combines a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured deposit account with additional services to help parents in two ways:
- Monitoring children’s credit profiles
- Building credit for children ages 14–25
There are no monthly subscriptions—you can choose between a free plan and two options with low annual fees based on a one-time FDIC-insured deposit:
|FDIC-Insured Deposit Amount||Cost|
How FreeKick’s Credit Profile Monitoring Works (Coming Soon)
When you create a FreeKick account, your child receives ongoing credit profile monitoring that keeps their information updated and accurate.
When you choose a plan, your child’s private information will be protected by various services:
- Social Security Number Tracing—Keeps track of all names, aliases, and addresses associated with your child’s SSN to detect signs of true-name and synthetic identity fraud
- Dark Web monitoring—Uses the CyberAgent surveillance system to monitor all internet activity related to the potential trading of your child’s personal information
- Full-service ID restoration—Offers comprehensive support from a restoration specialist working on your child’s behalf to restore their identity if it’s stolen. FreeKick covers ancillary restoration services with a $1 million insurance
- Sex offender monitoring—Provides an alert with a detailed report if a sex offender in your neighborhood registers under a different name using your address
- Additional protection for young adults:
- Lost wallet protection
- Change of address monitoring
- Payday loan monitoring
- Court records monitoring
Besides credit profile monitoring, FreeKick offers another invaluable service that can secure a more stable future for your child—automated credit building.
Build Your Child’s Credit With FreeKick
Starting a credit profile early in life can be highly beneficial. It gives your child more time to improve their credit score and enjoy the many benefits it offers. The problem is, children don’t have access to credit products that would let them build a credit profile.
FreeKick lets you overcome this limitation and invest in your child’s future. It builds their credit profile in three steps:
- Create an Account—Go to FreeKick.bank to choose a plan based on the aforementioned deposit amounts and activate your account
- Set It and Forget It—When the account is open, FreeKick builds 12 months of credit history for your child through a no-interest credit-builder loan repaid from the deposit
- Keep Growing—When the 12-month term ends, you can renew the account for another one or close it and get 100% of your deposit back
As FreeKick builds a credit history for your child, it reports it to the three major consumer credit bureaus. Reporting starts soon after opening the account if your child is a legal adult (18 and over in most states). If they’re a minor, they first need to activate it once they reach legal age. This is because credit bureaus only accept reporting for adults.
Regardless of the reporting time, your child can gain a significant advantage in life and save over $200,000 throughout adulthood as a result of a strong credit profile.
You can close your FreeKick account at any point—there are no early cancellation fees or penalties. The only restriction worth remembering is that if you close the account while your child is still a minor, no credit can be reported on their behalf because of the credit bureaus’ regulations.
What To Do if Your Child’s Identity Is Stolen
Watching out for identity fraud can be exhausting if you have to do it yourself. Worse yet, there’s still a chance of your child falling victim to it despite your best efforts. Some signs that your child’s PII may have been misused include the following:
- Correspondence from the IRS regarding tax issues connected to their information
- Pre-approved credit card offers in the child’s name
- Denied government benefits or student aid as a result of someone having already obtained them
If you notice such red flags and realize your child’s identity has been jeopardized, take the following steps:
- Notify the relevant authorities
- Place a fraud alert on the child’s credit profile
- Contact the affected lenders
Reach Out to the Authorities Immediately
The first thing you should do in case of identity theft is to contact the authorities that can help you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lets you submit an ID theft report and get an action plan to mitigate the damage.
You should also contact law enforcement and obtain a police report, as you might need it to dispute fraudulent activity.
Contact the Credit Bureau and Request a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert serves as a red flag notifying potential creditors that the child has been a victim of identity theft. You can place it by contacting any of the three credit bureaus, and they’ll notify the other two.
The alert is free and lasts for a year, but you can get an extended one for up to seven years. You can manage the alert on your child’s behalf and update/remove it by reaching out to credit bureaus via mail or phone.
Dispute Fraudulent Activity With the Affected Lenders
Your child’s credit profile will show any accounts opened in their name, so you can contact the lenders to let them know about the theft and close the accounts. Every lender has a dedicated fraud department that deals with such matters, so they can guide you through the process.
You may need to provide lots of information and documents, which can be time-consuming and stressful. Plus, your child’s credit profile would be significantly impacted despite the closure of the accounts, so you’d need to repair it once it’s done.
FreeKick’s credit profile monitoring can help you avoid all these complications. As mentioned, a dedicated ID restoration specialist would do all the work on your child’s behalf in case of theft, so the issue can be resolved timely and effectively. To ensure your child’s credit profile is overseen by experts while improving their creditworthiness, create your FreeKick account.