February 16th, 2012
How to Protect Your Child’s Identity at Every Age
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Your little bundle of joy could start life off deeply in debt and you might not even know it.
Some lenders require a social security number with a clean credit history but don’t necessarily check that the borrower’s name matches the number, so thieves can get away with using social security numbers that aren’t assigned to anyone at all.
Your child’s identity can be at risk at any point in his life. Children are easy targets because of their clean credit. So how can you protect Junior from a bruised credit history before he’s even old enough to say “credit card”?
Here are a few steps you can take, at every age, to ensure your child starts off adulthood with a clean slate.
Start with keeping your child’s documentation safe. Don’t carry around your child’s identifying documents, like a birth certificate or social security card. Establish good filing habits and store your child’s important documents in a fire-proof, locked safe or box. Be cautious when you offer your child’s social security number or identifying details. Always ask why the information is needed before you give it out. And, of course, make sure your family computer is up-to-date with the latest virus protection software. Entering sensitive information online without taking the proper precautions could leave your child’s details in danger of being captured by a thief.
Before your child is old enough to start using credit, he shouldn’t have a credit history at all. Sign of a credit history could mean fraud. If you want to ensure that your child’s credit history is non-existent before he turns 14, you have to go directly to the credit bureaus. (After 14, you can use AnnualCreditReport.com.) Fill out the Child Identity Theft Inquiry Form with TransUnion, which will tell you whether or not your child has a credit report. If he does, he could be an identity theft victim and you should contact the other two bureaus. Use the guidelines from the Identity Theft Resource Center.
When your child turns 14, you’ll be able to request a credit report from each of the credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com, but only if he has one. At this age, he still shouldn’t have a credit history at all, so if it turns out he does have a credit report, it’s a red flag that he may be a victim of identity theft.
To give you time to dispute any fraudulent accounts with the credit bureaus, and to protect your child’s credit from being accessed again, put a credit freeze on his report. Guidelines for credit freezes vary by state, so check this website to find out how to initiate one in your state of residence. You’ll have plenty of time to clean up his credit report and dispute inaccurate items before he’s old enough to start building his credit.
Your teen will likely get his first job when he’s in high school. Make sure he knows how to protect his financial information. Teach him not to carry certain pieces of information in his wallet, like his social security card, internet passwords, passport or account PINs. Caution him against giving out his personally identifying information without first asking what the information will be used for. And encourage him to check his credit reports once a year.
After he turns 18, help him set up an account with Credit Karma. He can check his credit score for free and set up free credit monitoring. He’ll be notified if anything important changes in his credit report, like a new account taken out in his name, so he can react quickly to any suspicious signs of fraud. Teach him about responsibly building credit, perhaps with a student credit card, when he’s old enough.
Bottom Line: In his adult life, your child’s credit will be his responsibility. But while he’s young, you can help ensure that he starts off adulthood with a clean credit history.
Bethy Hardeman is the Social Media Manager and Writer at Credit Karma, where she’s been since February 2011. When she’s not writing about credit and finance all over the web, you can find her playing her guitar, catching the latest movie, training for her next race or just exploring the city of San Francisco. Say “Hi” on Twitter: @bhardeman.
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