Could your child have a credit report even if he or she has never used a credit card or borrowed money? It's possible when identity theft is involved.
Your child's Social Security number (SSN) may be exposed in a number of ways – school records and medical records are just two common examples. Any time your child's SSN is entered on a form and stored in a new location, one more avenue is established for identity thieves potentially to access the SSN. By pairing your child's valid SSN with a different birth date, thieves can open fraudulent accounts without your knowledge.
This type of fraud is particularly insidious because it can go undetected for many years. Potentially, you may not realize fraud has taken place until your child reaches early adulthood and applies for student loans, car loans, or other forms of credit. By then, the damage is extensive and difficult to repair.
Most parents wouldn't think to review their child's credit report. Unless unexplained bills, collections calls, or IRS notices show up, why would you even expect a credit report to exist? That's the very reason why you should check. Child identity theft is highly tempting for thieves because of the lower likelihood of detection. Who knows how many children were affected by the recent Equifax data breach?
To verify the presence or absence of a credit report, check with each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask for a manual search of your child's file. It's important to check with all three because an account may not be reported to all three agencies. If your child is at least 18, Credit Manager can easily provide Elite members with their three credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax within minutes by answering a few identity questions, and will provide one report free of charge.
If you decide to contact each bureau individually, you will need a copy of your driver's license or other government-issued form of ID and proof of address (utility bill or insurance/bank statement). Required information for your child includes a copy of his or her birth certificate, Social Security card, full name including middle initials and generational markers such as Jr. or Sr., and date of birth. You should also include a letter explaining the situation and why your child may be an identity theft victim. Individual bureaus may require further forms or other information. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers links and contact information to each of the three bureaus.
If you find that your child's identity has been stolen and used to create fraudulent accounts, start the path to recovery by contacting the credit account issuers to close the accounts. Then, report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department. The FTC site can guide you through the recovery process with a plan suited to your situation, including placement of fraud alerts and notification of the identity theft with the credit bureaus.
As with most things in life, prevention is the best method. Only give out your child's SSN when absolutely necessary, and ask how the information is protected. Store your child's Social Security card in a lock box or other safe place, and shred any information that contains your child's SSN but isn't important enough to save. When your child is of a sufficient age where he or she will need to provide an SSN to others, stress the importance of limiting access to personal information and the possible problems associated with identity theft.
For further protection, products are available to help you protect your child's identity and prevent fraudulent use of his or her name. Check into the options and see if any of these products are right for your family. Your children don't need the lingering aftereffects of identity theft following them into adulthood.
While you are at it, why not check your own credit report? Rod Griffin, Director of Public Education at Experian, notes that "your credit report can help you identify potential frauds and you can act on it and protect yourself." Prevention is the best choice for you as well.
If you would like to monitor your credit to prevent identity theft and see your credit reports and scores, check out our credit monitoring service.