How to protect your kids from identity theft
If you’re a parent, you recognize the importance of being proactive about your kids’ safety. These days, a big part of that involves being careful about your children’s personal information.
There are good reasons to be mindful. A report from Javelin Strategy and Research found that as many as one million children are victims of identity fraud each year, resulting in total losses of $2.6 billion and more than $540 million in out-of-pocket costs to the victims’ families. Javelin’s research also indicates that two-thirds of kids impacted by identity theft are under the age of eight.
Mike Meyer, a product manager at Commerce Bank who oversees identity theft services, says thieves target younger children’s personally identifiable information — such as Social Security numbers, home addresses and birth dates — because it gives them more time before those children would typically begin applying for credit and thus discover the fraud.
“Criminals view kids’ information as an easy way to create synthetic identities,” says Meyer. “Young kids don’t have credit histories, so it’s a blank slate that thieves can use to make new identities.” The victims are unlikely to be aware of the theft for years and may not discover it until the child is a teenager applying for their first credit card, car loan or student loan.
In many cases, the victim of child identify fraud personally knows the perpetrator. According to Javelin’s study, this happens in 60% of child identity fraud cases, as compared to just 7% of cases involving adult victims. It therefore can be important to keep items like kids’ Social Security cards and your tax returns in a locked location and password-protect all computers in your home.
Another way that criminals access children’s information is through hacking. “Thieves often target hospital databases, pediatricians’ offices or even schools to get the information they want,” says Meyer. “They’ll then sell the information on the dark web or use it themselves to create a new identity.”
Meyer notes that it can be tricky to know if your child’s information has been compromised, because in many cases criminals won’t use it immediately. “Sometimes they’re patient,” he says. “They may acquire a child’s information, then wait a fairly long period of time before doing anything with it. When they start, they often make small charges on a new account to establish credit. The activity can go undetected because small transactions often fly under the radar.”
Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to safeguard their children’s identity.
Understand where your child’s personally identifiable information is being stored — at schools, doctor’s offices and other locations — and ask them how they’re keeping this information secure.
Be vigilant about any indications your child’s identity might be compromised. “If you start receiving credit card offers in the mail with your child’s name on it, that’s a red flag,” Meyer says. “You should pay attention to that just as much as you would if an actual bill arrived in your child’s name, or you received a call from a collections agent asking for your child. Those are all causes for concern.”
Keep close tabs on what kids share via social media. “Sometimes a criminal may have a child’s Social Security number but may need other information, like a home address,” says Meyer. “It can sometimes be easy to find information like that on a child’s social media profiles.”
If you’re starting to think about running a credit report on your child’s Social Security number, Meyer says that isn’t necessary unless you have a specific concern. “Most children won’t have a credit report,” he notes. “If you notice any red flags, however, then go ahead and run a report. If your child has a credit report at all, there’s a good chance it’s fraudulent.”
If you do discover that your child’s information has been used fraudulently, the first step is to contact all three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. “Run a report with each one,” says Meyer. “They may not show the same activity, and you want to be thorough. Ask them to freeze your child’s credit.”
Securing a police report is also important. “Contact your local police department, file a report, and get a copy of it,” Meyer says. “When you start contacting creditors listed on the credit report, they are likely to ask for a copy of the police report. They’ll want to see that before they take any action.”
Meyer adds that resolving cases of identity theft is possible, but it can be time-consuming and arduous. “It can take weeks, months or even a year or more to get everything straightened out,” he says. Commerce Bank offers two products that can help with resolving identity theft issues impacting you and your household.
Commerce ID Recover provides restoration services that can help in the event of identity theft or suspected fraud. Commerce ID Monitor includes those same restoration services in addition to proactive credit and dark web monitoring for the primary account holder and one designated family member. Both services provide the opportunity to have Commerce’s resolution specialists contact creditors and act on your behalf throughout the restoration process, saving you time while you benefit from the experience of the Commerce Bank team.
“At Commerce, we understand that managing your identity is more important than ever,” Meyer says. “We give you the tools to fight fraud. In today’s connected world, we think these tools offer peace of mind, and we’re happy to help.”
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