Protecting your child’s credit file

Scammers who hijack children’s credit steal more than a billion dollars from families yearly.

When scammers steal kids’ personal information, they can destroy their credit history before they can even get it started.

While you might believe identity theft is only for adults, think again.

According to a study, one out of every 50 kids in the U.S. are a victim of identity theft.

“It’s a problem that’s existed for a while, but it’s a growing problem,” says Kevin Brasler with the nonprofit Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook.

Brasler says kids’ information can be stolen from data breaches or even their own family members.

“They’re using that information and the kids’ names and a fake date of birth and address to set up credit histories. The credit bureaus don’t have credit files on these kids yet. They know it’s a legitimate social security number; they don’t know that rest of the information is false,” Brasler says.

That information is given to the credit bureaus, and the thief begins their work.

“The criminals are not sending you their statements necessarily. You don’t know about the fraud until maybe many years have passed, until your kid wants to establish credit,” Brasler says.

The story authored for the nonprofit by Her Weisbaum points to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research that says the average U.S. family loses more than $1,000 when a child is hit with identity fraud.

“The problem is it takes a lot of time and it can be a big hassle to clean up our credit files. ... The credit bureaus have lots and lots of errors in their files for adults and for these kids who’ve been victims of identity theft. It can sometimes take a lot of time to get that cleared up,” says Brasler.

“Are children’s social security numbers ... gold to scammers? Absolutely,” says Christopher Budd, a senior manager for the computer security company Sophos. “But people haven’t started thinking that ‘when I get a social security number, I need to worry about identity theft’ — that created this window. It could be anywhere from 10 to 15 to 20 years where you have a social security number, and no one is checking it.”

Budd says to check your child’s credit along with yours and freeze their file straightaway.

Finally, be very careful with that vital social security number.

“A lot of people ask for it because they think they need it. It will save them time, but they are not actually entitled to have it. So push back. Feel free to say no,” says Budd.