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When most people think of identity theft fraudulent credit card purchases and stolen drivers licenses typically come to mind.  Child identity theft, though, is quickly growing and can be dangerous and damaging long-term.  According to a 2011 report from Carnegie Mellon, 10 percent of children under 18 years of age have had their Social Security number stolen.

Why Children?

  • Dependents for fraudulent returns. Consumer Reports estimates that adding a child to a tax return can be worth about $1,000. Cybercriminals use the stolen information to claim a dependent on their tax forms. Separated couples may unintentionally cause child-identity issues if both parents claim the same child as their dependent.
  • Clean credit reports. Kids typically have clean credit histories, if they have any history at all. This gives the scammer a blank slate to open bank accounts, get loans, register a vehicle, buy a property, etc.
  • Lower chances of getting caught. Unlike adults, children don’t keep track of their credit score. Why would they? Most parents don’t realize they should be checking their children’s credit reports. That means thieves could potentially be stealing children’s identities for years. In fact, in a 2012 survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center, 17 percent of children were victimized for a year or more.
  • Easy access to documents. 27 percent of respondents to the Identity Theft Assistance Center survey reported knowing the individual responsible for the crime. It’s often family members, friends or teachers who have convenient access to the child’s information. It’s harder to catch the fraud when the guardian who would normally report the theft is actually the one committing it.

What can consumers do?

  • Check with one of the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to see if a credit profile exists for your child.  If one exists, be concerned.  Of the three, only Equifax allows parents from all 50 states to freeze their child’s credit.  However, you can place fraud alerts if you suspect or have proof that your child’s identity has been compromised.
  • Look at the mail. Bills, credit card offers, collection calls, or notices from the IRS and other government agencies made out to your child are a red flag that someone is using their information. Don’t assume it’s a mistake and always follow up with the agency or company.
  • Protect your child’s information. Physical papers containing personal information, such as your child’s birth certificate and social security card,  should be locked safely away and digital data should be password protected and behind a firewall. Limit who you give out your child’s information to unless you know it is completely necessary and exactly how it will be used. Don’t share your child’s full birthday on social media and make your accounts private. Filing early may also help avoid child identity theft.
  • Teach your children to protect their personal information. Make sure your child knows the importance of personal information privacy and doesn’t share their information carelessly.

If you find evidence of identity theft, contact your local police and the three major credit bureaus. You should also report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov  and utilize the resources available to help your child recover. It’s important you act quickly as it can take time to clear all fraudulent charges from the account and could affect your child’s ability to buy a car, get a credit card, pay for college, or get a loan.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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