Years ago, parents were asked if they knew where their children were. Today, parents have a new concern: child identity theft.
In 2011, more than 19,000 child identity theft complaints were reported to the Federal Trade Commission, compared with approximately 6,000 complaints in 2003.
Children are at risk because they are essentially blank slates in the credit world. Identity theft scammers have caught on to this opportunity and are taking advantage by stealing children’s identities and selling them on the open market.
Child identity theft most often occurs when someone gets a hold of a Social Security number or other personal information for a minor and uses it to apply for credit, apply for a job, get a driver’s license, tap into a family’s medical health insurance benefits, or even apply for government benefits.
Sometimes the identity thieves are professional criminals, but often, the thief can be a close relative or friend with access to sensitive personal information. A family member may take a child’s Social Security number and open up credit accounts or set up utilities.
The family member who pilfers a child’s identity might not realize the extent of the possible long-term damage, but if they don’t pay their bills or rack up debt or have a history of late payments, that negative information is entered on the child’s credit file and stays there. Child identity theft can go unchecked for years. Often the first sign of child identity theft is revealed when the child becomes an adult and is turned down for their first apartment, or is rejected for their first credit card.
Children are supposed to have a completely blank credit file. Parents have the responsibility to protect their children’s personal information. If parents are informed and aware of how to protect this information, they have a much greater chance of protecting against and preventing child identity theft.
In a Child Identity Theft study recently commissioned by Equifax, research firm Vantedge found that more than 80 percent of parents with minor children are still largely unaware of the threat of the child identity theft.
Younger parents are more tuned into the dangers of identity theft. Almost 50 percent of the survey respondents who were “extremely familiar” with child identity theft were between ages 25 and 34, and 87 percent of those have children are 10 or younger.
The group of survey respondents most familiar with child identity theft also recognizes the danger. “Extremely familiar” parents were two times more likely to rate their level of concern as a nine or 10 on a scale of one to 10.
The extremely familiar respondents were also ones with a close personal connection to child identity theft. Thirteen percent of total survey respondents have a friend or family member who is the parent of a victim of child identity theft, and 11 percent have a friend or family member who is a victim of child identity theft.
Clearly, it’s time to spread awareness and education about child identity theft. The numbers of children whose identities are stolen grows every year. But by educating parents to take steps to help prevent child identity theft, we can begin to stem the rising tide of this problem. Don’t wait until your child or family becomes a victim of identity theft to start looking for the warning signs.
Equifax is committed to arming parents with the tools you need to help protect your own identities and the identities of your children.
We recently launched Equifax Complete™ Family Plan as a product to educate parents and help guard against the threat of identity theft. It offers families the most comprehensive identity protection and credit monitoring features available from Equifax for two adults and up to four minor children.
Please continue to return to the Finance Blog and Equifax.com for more resources and education on child identity theft.
Have you or someone in your family been a victim of child identity theft? Share your story in the comments below.