The statistics on identity theft, data breaches, and other related crimes are staggering, with record-setting numbers of events taking place year after year. One particularly tragic group of victims affected by these crimes is children. Child identity theft was once thought to be a crime perpetrated by someone close to the victim, such as a parent, relative, or family friend. And to some extent, that’s still quite prevalent; a recent Javelin Strategy & Research report study found that 60% of child victims knew their identity thief.
However, a recent surge in data breach activity targeting children has also contributed to the epidemic. The same study found that more than one million children were victims of identity theft in the U.S. last year, many of whom had their identifying information stolen in data breaches.
Hackers have been targeting children’s organizations in recent years for a few reasons. First, children typically have no credit, and once the thief builds a credit report over the course of a few weeks, it’s easy to open new accounts, borrow large sums of money, and even seek medical care in that child’s name. Also, since most children (and their parents) have no need to check the child’s credit report, this theft may go on unchecked for years.
Additionally, an alarming new twist on child identity theft has cropped up, one that uses real children’s Social Security numbers (SSN) in combination with phony personal data. Called synthetic identity theft, it occurs when the actual SSN and the fake data are used to fabricate an entirely new persona. While the name, address, phone number, and other details are made up, the SSN is tied to a real person, and therefore the credit report may reflect it. In this case, it’s possible that early detection is even less likely since the charges and bills won’t go to the SSN owner’s home address, which would normally trigger a response from the victim and their family.
Fighting back against this kind of crime is no small feat. Some experts have stated that freezing children’s credit reports until they are adults is a good idea, but parents need to understand the potential impact of freezing and unfreezing it. In a few states, credit freezes expire after seven years. However, in the vast majority of states, a freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. Moreover, when children need to access their credit to take out a loan for college or open a credit card, for example, parents will need to help them lift or remove the freeze with all three of the major credit reporting agencies, not just one. Currently, credit freezes may involve fees based on state law but beginning in September 2018, they will be available at no charge nationwide due to a new law.
If you request a freeze by telephone or electronically, it will take effect in about one business day. If a freeze request is done by mail, the credit bureaus have three business days to activate it from the date the request is received. The timing to “lift” or “thaw” a credit freeze is about the same as placing one. Credit bureaus can usually comply with an online or telephone request to lift a freeze within minutes; however, bureaus have up to three business days to comply with a written request to lift a security freeze after they receive the request by mail. Even if parents don’t have any suspicions that their child’s identity may have been compromised, it’s still a good idea to order credit reports for them periodically. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for instructions on how and why to request a minor’s credit report.
To learn more about protecting your child’s information, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free assistance. If you have the financial means, you might consider purchasing identity theft protection from a reputable provider who can help save you time monitoring your information and to further strengthen your protection. Some identity protection providers even offer family plans that allow for the monitoring of a child’s identity until they turn 18.
Generali Global Assistance proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.