By Amy Miller, AFC®
Created by Experian in 2018, National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day is held annually on September 1st. I know we are a little past that date, but I still wanted to touch on it and draw some attention to the issue this month.
What is Childhood Identity Theft?
Child Identity Theft occurs when someone uses an underage child’s social security number to obtain credit, employment, financial aid, leases, utility services, and so on.
Children as Victims
As a young, new branch manager in retail banking, one of my favorite things to do was conduct financial education classes. I had taken the certification courses and was tasked with being the market leader for the “financial literacy and employer outreach taskforce” ….sounds important, right? Well, it was really just me leading one person from each branch in an effort to increase the bank’s community involvement activities. One way to do so was through financial education classes.
I’ve taught many classes since the beginning of my financial career – most have become a blur – but the one I’m going to talk about today has always stood out in my mind because it was truly an eye-opener.
I was asked to assist another branch manager with a presentation at a children’s home. She was not yet comfortable speaking in a group setting so of course, I agreed. We arrived at a beautiful, large country home that was tucked right outside of town off a long hilly road. I remember wondering if we were in the right place. It looked like a wedding venue right off the pages of a Southern Living Magazine. But it wasn’t – it was a group home for teens that were either orphans or in the foster system (I learned that teens in foster care are often placed in homes like these – it’s very hard to find a family willing to take them in).
We were greeted and taken to a large conference room where around 12 students/residents were waiting for us and after a few ice breakers, I found that these seemingly tough teens were very eager to learn and full of questions, which we welcomed.
As the class went on and many topics were covered, we ended with a long discussion about credit. They were all very curious and I ended up taking a seat and having a long open discussion with them. As the conversation went on, one by one they revealed more and more about themselves (most of their stories were unimaginable and heartbreaking). Shockingly I found that EVERY ONE of them had been victims of identity theft – EVERY ONE OF THEM! Most were at the hands of their parents; a couple were other relatives or a love interest of one of their parents or relatives and most involved their names and socials being used for utilities and leases – one for a car.
That was the day I realized that child identity theft was a real issue. And a big one!
I ended up visiting the home several times – working with them and answering questions. I’ll never forget those kids and I hope and pray that they are all doing well today and that the knowledge that I shared has been helpful in building a life for themselves.
Child Identity Theft by the Numbers
-According to the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Child Identity Theft report, children are 51 times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than adults.
-Over 1.3 million children become victims of Identity Theft each year
-Studies by Michigan State University show that 50% of child victims are age six or younger and that the average age is constantly decreasing
-Data from a 2017 report by GIZMODO showed that $2.6 BILLION in damages are directly related to child identity theft each year
-Similar to the teens I mentioned earlier; 60% of child identity theft occurs by someone the victim knows compared to 7% for adults
Protecting Your Children
Keeping your children’s information confidential and safe is the best way to guard against identity theft. Here are a few tips and habits you can adopt to protect them.
-Schools are one of identity thieves’ top targets and account for around 61% of ransomware attacks, therefore, do not give your children’s social to them. This goes for summer camps and daycares as well. A social security number should not be used as an identifier.
-Kids that go online unsupervised are more likely to become victims of Identity theft – you must monitor their usage and what they are sharing constantly
-Often a birthdate and birthplace are all that is needed for a thief to start stealing a child’s identity off the dark web so refrain from posting this information online
-Freeze their credit – you can do so by contacting each of The Big Three (contact information below).
It’s my understanding that each has some differences in their exact requirements, but the basic information they will need will be your ID, birth certificate, and social along with your child’s birth certificate, social security card, and some type of address verification.
Minors who are 16 or 17 can freeze their own credit by calling the agencies below, they cannot do it online until after they are 18 years old.
*Equifax: (800) 349-9960 or online @ Equifax Credit Freeze
*Experian: (888) 397-3742 or online @ Experian Credit Freeze
*TransUnion: (888) 909-8872 or online @ TransUnion Credit Freeze
Child Identity Theft is a serious issue that can go on for years before being detected, leaving the victim with endless amounts of red tape and hurdles to jump – usually just as they are becoming young adults tackling many other obstacles. I’m hoping that every parent reading this will take the time and the necessary steps to protect their children before it’s too late.