The reason to take time to freeze your kid’s credit is the same reason you childproof your house when they’re babies: to protect them.
Children are about 50 times as likely as adults to have their identity stolen Here’s why: The digits in a child’s Social Security number — are super-valuable to identity thieves, because the numbers are not cross-checked with birth dates when used to establish credit. Children’s unblemished numbers are perfect to start a new record.
The numbers can be used in synthetic identity theft, where thieves combine a real Social Security number with a fake name and address to build credit, sometimes paying bills until credit limits are high, then charging up cards and disappearing, leaving the trail of that stolen Social Security number, says Eva Velasquez, president/CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
More commonly, the thief is a household member you know and trust, or once trusted.
How difficult is it to freeze my kid’s credit?
It’s not hard, but it can be a hassle to freeze kids’ credit. You are asking the credit bureaus to create and then freeze a credit report. (If one already exists, your child’s identity has probably already been compromised, says Velasquez, and the Identity Theft Resource Center, which has resources to help.)
Each of the three major credit bureaus has a slightly different process. All require proof of your identity and your child’s. Some acceptable proofs of identity are the same. Just not all.
There’s a way to minimize the work you have to do and let credit bureaus sort through the docs. You’ll need three copies of:
- Birth certificates (yours and the child’s if it is your child). If you are a foster parent or guardian, you’ll need a document that authorizes you to act on the child’s behalf.
- Social Security cards for you and the child
- Your government-issued ID
- A utility bill, bank statement or insurance statement that includes your name and address
Then you’ll have to fill out or write:
a letter to TransUnion requesting a “protected consumer freeze” (We got you. Here’s a letter you can print and sign.)
The forms and letter contain the addresses you need. Consider sending this sensitive information by registered mail.
You should hear back from the credit bureaus, confirming the freeze is in place, and with instructions for establishing a PIN or password to unfreeze it. Keep that in a safe place, but also understand that if you should lose it,, your child won’t be cut off from credit forever. Even without the credentials, they can unfreeze it at age 18, once they verify identity with the credit bureaus.
How long will it take?
Liz Weston, NerdWallet columnist and credit expert, suggests blocking out an hour on your calendar, but the amount of time it takes will depend on how organized you are. If your documents are close at hand and your printer is working (and not out of ink), you can make short work of it. The freeze should take effect within a week of the documents being received.
The protection this offers is limited to keeping others from using your child’s personal data to establish credit. “But it is important to prevent because it can be years before your child applies for their first credit account or a loan and discovers that there’s a problem,” says Weston.
How do kids find out if they have been victims?
Axton Betz-Hamilton, now a family financial abuse expert and assistant professor in health and consumer sciences at South Dakota State University, was a 19-year-old college sophomore moving into her first off-campus apartment when she found out. She received a letter from a utility company saying her deposit would be $100 more because of her credit.
She requested a copy of her credit report, expecting to see her name, identifying information, and records for two student loans. Instead, she received a thick envelope with 10 pages of credit history, detailing fraudulent credit accounts, along with related collections accounts. The records went back to 1993, when she was still a minor.
How do I report identity theft?
You can report it to identitytheft.gov or to local law enforcement.
However, many victims hesitate to report it, because their identity thief was a relative. Betz-Hamilton’s was; her mother had used her birth certificate and Social Security number. She didn’t learn of it until after her mother died and evidence of it was found.
Velasquez is not without sympathy for some identity thieves — a parent may be desperate to get the utilities turned back on or to buy groceries, or simply unaware that “borrowing” their child’s data is a crime.
(Quick aside here: If you used your child’s credentials, thinking it was OK as long as you used it to pay for something the child needed, no judgment. But now that you know it’s a crime, consider asking a legal aid attorney for advice, Velasquez advises.)
Velasquez says an identity thief can be anyone who has access to your child’s Social Security number. A Social Security number can be compromised even before it is assigned if a criminal happens to guess and use the digits to get credit.
How else can I help protect my kid’s identity?
Guard Social Security numbers. If a form asks for them, leave it blank and/or ask whether the last four digits or another form of identification are sufficient. Also ask how the information will be protected.
Keep paperwork with your child’s data, such as tax returns, locked in a fireproof safe.
Be careful with other numbers, such as health insurance numbers. And if you get marketing mail, such as preapproved credit card offers addressed to your child, investigate further.
Once you’ve frozen your kid’s credit, consider sitting down with a vulnerable adult or family member and helping them freeze their credit (it can be done online).
Say, “Hey, Mom, Dad, or whatever the relationship is, this is a really great idea to protect you and your finances,” Betz-Hamilton says, “You know, I’ll sit here and help you walk through.”
It’s a bit of a pain, but “right now, that’s the best we have.” she says.
Read More On HerMoney:
- The Cybersecurity Risk Is Real: 4 Ways to Protect Your Accounts in 2022
- Freezing Your Credit Is Free For Everyone: Here’s What You’ll Need To Do
- How Often Should You Check Your Credit Report?
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