You may just chuckle and toss those credit card offers that come in the mail for your fourth grader, but there may be something more nefarious at play: identity theft.
According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group, one in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised. It all starts with the child’s Social Security number, which is then paired with a different name, birthdate and address to apply for credit. This is called a synthetic identity, and is very hard to detect.
"Using the stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs," says Trevor Buxton, fraud awareness and communications manager at PNC Bank.
PNC offers these warning signs that your child may be a victim of identity theft:
- Notification by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your child's name.
- Notification that a child's Social Security number was used on another tax return.
- Receiving collection calls for a minor child.
- Receiving bills in a child's name for products or services not ordered or delivered.
- Declined for government benefits because benefits are already being paid to another account using the child's Social Security number.
Fortunately, there are proactive steps a parent can take to protect their children from identity theft, such as:
- Keep your child’s Social Security card in a safe, locked place at home; never carry it on your person.
- Find out if you can opt out of providing your child’s Social Security number on school and medical forms. Many will allow the use of just the last four digits.
- Shred all documents that show your child's personally identifiable information before throwing them away.
- Most importantly, request an annual credit report for your child at annualcreditreport.com. Everyone is entitled to one free copy per year. Your child’s report should show no credit history at all. If there is a credit history, he or she has most likely become a victim of identity theft. Contact the credit agency and notify the authorities immediately.