As a parent, you do everything you can to keep your children safe and set them up for success. But there’s one threat many parents overlook: digital identity theft. Child identity theft is a growing problem that can have lasting consequences if left unchecked. That’s why during Data Privacy Week, consider taking steps to help prevent digital identity theft before it starts.
What is Child Identity Theft?
According to the FTC, child identity theft happens when someone uses a child’s sensitive personal information, such as their Social Security number or name, to access services or benefits, or commit financial fraud. Criminals use this personally identifiable information (PII) — whether it’s stolen from legal documents or through a data breach — to apply for government benefits, open a credit card account, apply for a loan, or sign up for a utility service.
The Lure of a Clean Credit Report
Javelin Strategy’s 2022 Child Identity Fraud Study found that child identity theft affected nearly 1 million children in 2022, costing families more than $1,000 per incident. The same study found that children under age 7 were most likely to fall victim to identity theft.
Because minors — which credit bureaus define as people aged 15 and younger — have clean credit files, their information is especially attractive to identity thieves who want to fraudulently apply for credit or a loan, or create a synthetic identity. This fraudulent activity can go undetected for years, leaving your child with damaged credit before they even become an adult.
The Rise of Synthetic Identity Fraud and Randomized Social Security Numbers
Prior to 2011, U.S. Social Security numbers (SSNs) followed a set convention with area numbers assigned geographically, middle group numbers alternating between odd and even, and serial numbers running consecutively.
The problem with this code was that it was in fact, crackable. A new assignment method was implemented in 2011 with numbers known as “randomized” SSNs. Unfortunately, these randomized SSNs are a favorite among criminals creating synthetic identities because institutions cannot verify the SSN of a person born or arriving in the U.S. after 2011 using their location or date of birth. Criminals then commit synthetic identity fraud by using these stolen SSNs to piece together a new consumer with a combination of real and fabricated information. These synthetic identities are then used as money mules to fuel fraudulent money movement or illegal activities.
Stop Digital Identity Theft Before It Starts
The best way to get ahead of the fraudsters? Freeze your child’s credit as soon as possible.
Since credit bureaus don’t usually have credit reports for minors age 15 and under, you can request they create a file and then immediately freeze it. This stops thieves from being able to open new credit accounts in your child’s name.
To request a credit freeze for a minor age 15 and under, make paper copies of the following documents:
- Your child’s birth certificate, or other proof of your guardianship such as a court order, valid power of attorney, or a foster care certification
- Your child’s Social Security card
- Your birth certificate, government issued identification card such as a driver’s license, or your Social Security card
- Proof of address, such as a utility bill or insurance statement
Each bureau has slightly different requirements, but the above documents will cover your bases for each one.
Fill out the unique form for each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and mail the form along with a copy of each of the above documents to the bureaus. Within a few weeks, you’ll receive confirmation that a credit freeze has been implemented, along with instructions to unfreeze credit when the time comes — be sure to save this information, ideally in a fire-proof safe or a digital password management service.
Aside from credit freezes, here are a few other ways to protect your child’s identity:
- Closely monitor your child’s personal information and limit who has access to it. Does that school form really require their full Social Security number? If so, confirm how it will be protected, or if you can provide an alternate identifier or just the last four digits.
- Shred documents with personal information before throwing them out.
- Talk to your child early and often about online safety and being careful about sharing private information online. Don’t over-post about them on social media.
- Keep an eye out for suspicious activity like credit card offers arriving for your child. This could signal that their identity has already been compromised.
Safeguard Your Child’s Future
Child identity theft often goes unnoticed for years and can seriously impact your child’s future. But there are steps you can take to detect and prevent it. If you suspect that your child has been victimized, organizations like the Identity Theft Resource Center offer helpful resources.
Don’t wait — take action to freeze your child’s credit and monitor their information for red flags. Their future selves will thank you.
To learn more about how Socure roots out synthetic identity fraud, download our report here.
Brittany Geronimo is the Director of Content Marketing and Strategy at Socure. With more than 10 years of experience in cybersecurity and financial services at companies like Optiv and NICE Actimize, Brittany builds marketing strategies centered around engaging content that elevates brand voice and connects with an organization's audience.