This post originally appeared on Forbes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week from January 25 – 29, with a series of events aimed at educating consumers. Tax identity fraud occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. You’re probably aware of your own risk of tax identity theft. Data breaches at T-Mobile, Scottrade, CVS, Anthem, and even the IRS itself ranked as some of the largest of 2015, and those were just a few large enough to make national news. With so much of our personal information online comes the risk of that information winding up in the wrong hands. You take measures to guard your own personal and financial data, but are you protecting your kids?
While parents may have a system of alerts and credit checks to protect their own credit, kids are easier targets. Identity theft on a child can go undiscovered for years. You may not become aware until your child is turned down for a job or loan due to a horrible credit history.
Signs that your child’s credit history has been compromised include:
- your child is denied a bank account or driver’s license
- credit card and loan offers addressed to your child
- collection calls or bills addressed to your child
- being turned down for government benefits because the Social Security number is already in use
- a notice from the IRS that your child owes income taxes or was claimed as a dependent on another return
Don’t immediately panic if you receive a credit card offer in your child’s name. Financial companies sometimes mistakenly send credit card offers to a minor but be on alert if you suddenly start receiving a lot of mail that would typically be for adults.
Check Your Child’s Credit Report
It isn’t as easy to check a child’s credit report as it is to check your own. You’ll have to mail or fax in documentation proving you are the parent or guardian. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion each have their own process for checking a minor’s credit report.
If you request a credit report for your child and none is available, their social security number and other information haven’t been used. Because creditors don’t always report to all three agencies, if you do suspect identity theft you’ll want to check all three.
You probably won’t want to go through the hassle of checking all three bureaus annually but if you suspect your child has been a victim, you should check as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to check your child’s credit report close to his or her 16th birthday. If there has been any fraud, you will have time to correct it before your child applies for a job or loan or needs to rent an apartment.
You may be able to freeze your child’s credit. A credit freeze keeps your credit report from going out to potential lenders unless you take steps to temporarily lift the freeze prior to applying for credit. Some states will only allow you to place a freeze on your child’s credit if they’ve already been victimized, but others have laws requiring the credit bureaus to create an empty credit file for your child just so you can freeze it. Again, you’ll have to order the credit freeze with all three credit bureaus separately.
Be Cautious About Releasing Sensitive Information
As a parent, the best thing you can do to protect your child is to be cautious when divulging your child’s information.
- Don’t give out your child’s social security number. If a business asks for your child’s social security number, ask if you can provide an alternate identifier – perhaps just the last four digits of their social security number.
- Shred all documents, even school records and seemingly benign information with your child’s name on it. Thieves can use that data to gain access to more information.
- Make sure that any activity your child participates in uses the information properly and handles it with care. If a sports team requires a birth certificate for sign up, ask how the information is stored and what safeguards are in place during storage.
- Teach your children to keep personal information private when they are online. Social networking sites can be a goldmine for identity thieves.
If you discover your child has been a victim of identity theft, file a police report and get a copy of the report. Contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus to notify them of the fraud, and follow their advice for next steps.