For identity thieves, kids are the perfect mark.
While adults make prime targets for their account balances, a child's information, particularly their Social Security number, has even more value to scammers because it is a "clean slate" for opening new lines of credit before someone catches on, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
More than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Two-thirds of those affected were age 7 or younger.
Thieves were able to steal $2,303, on average, when they misused the identity of a minor, more than twice the average fraud amount for adults, Javelin said in the report released last year.
Altogether, scammers used a child's information to grab roughly $2.6 billion in total that year, leaving their families with an estimated $540 million in out-of-pocket costs.
While the Social Security Administration has recently started digitizing its systems, lenders more often check with credit reporting companies for a credit report instead of verifying Social Security numbers and ages with the government, said Kyle Marchini, a senior analyst at Javelin.
Unless you've applied for credit, you don't have a report — which also means you don't have any "hits" or "dings" to raise a red flag.
That opens the door for an identity thief to take over, open new accounts and run up large debts. The victim could be an adult before they discover that their credit history has been ruined.
To prevent that from happening, here are a few tips to keep your child's identity safe:
Pay close attention to people with access to your child's Social Security number. Javelin estimates that 6 in 10 child victims personally know the perpetrator, compared to 7% of adults. Family friends were the most common suspect, accounting for a third of cases.
This type of fraud is often a crime of opportunity so keep any sensitive personal and financial information out of sight, such as birth certificates and tax returns, and password protect your home electronic devices.
Keep close tabs on your child's online activity. Parents should know what personal information their children are storing on electronic devices or with third parties, and teach them safe internet behaviors — including how to spot potential scams and phishing attempts.
"If parents haven't monitored how they are sharing information online, then often there is more information out there to be stolen and used to take over their identities," Marchini said.
Freeze their credit. Establishing a credit freeze remains one of the most effective tools for preventing new accounts from being opened, according to research from Javelin.
However, you can only proactively freeze your child's credit file so that no one can open new lines of credit in his or her name in some states.
Check with your state attorney general and the three major credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to find out if your child has a credit report or request a manual search for your child's Social Security number.
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