By Jason Alderman
You’re probably weary of being reminded to take precautions against identity theft, but here’s a wrinkle you may not have considered: Identity thieves have broadened their reach by harvesting children’s dormant Social Security numbers (SSNs) and using them to illegally obtain jobs, credit accounts, mortgages or car loans and much worse.
Many victims have no inkling anything is amiss until they later apply for a student loan, bank account, job or apartment and are turned down because of poor credit history. Some families have even been hounded by collection agencies or served with arrest warrants because the debts or criminal activities thieves executed were so extreme.
There’s no completely foolproof way to protect your child’s identity, but here are some precautions you can take:
Although it’s tempting to simply not register your kids for SSNs until they turn 18, that’s not practical in today’s world. For one thing, children need one if you want to claim them as dependents on your taxes. They also may need one if you want to obtain medical coverage or government services for them or open bank accounts or savings bonds in their name.
Most parents register their children for SSNs at the same time they apply for birth certificates at the hospital. If you wait until later to apply, you must provide proof of your child’s U.S. citizenship, age and identity, as well as proof of your own identity.
Because each person’s SSN is unique, it’s not uncommon for schools, healthcare providers, insurance companies and others to require that parents provide one as an identification tool. However, don’t be afraid to ask:
• Why do they need an SSN – is there a legal requirement and if so, what is it?
• Will they accept alternative identification?
• What will happen if you don’t disclose it?
• What security precautions do they take with personal information?
• Will they agree not to use the SSN as your child’s personal identification number on correspondence, account statements or ID cards?
Warning signs your child’s personal data might have been compromised include:
• Preapproved credit account offers.
• Calls from collection agencies, creditors or government agencies.
• You’re denied opening a bank account in their name because one already exists with the same SSN.
• They are denied credit, employment, a driver’s license or college enrollment for unknown or credit-related reasons.
There may be legitimate reasons why your child is receiving credit offers. For example, if you opened a college fund or they enrolled in a frequent flyer program.
However, if you strongly suspect an identity theft has been committed, you can:
• File a police report and keep a copy as proof of the crime.
• Contact the fraud units at the three major credit bureaus for instructions: Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289).
• Notify the Federal Trade Commission (877-438-4338). Their Identity Theft site at www.ftc.gov contains information on fraud alerts, credit freezes, working with police and much more.
• Ask Social Security (800-772-1213) whether anyone has reported income using your child’s SSN. Search “Identity Theft” at www.ssa.gov for information.
• Contact the IRS’ Identity Protection Unit (800-980-4490).
Bottom line: Use the same precautions with your child’s personal information as you do with your own and make sure you know the warning signs and what to do if it’s compromised.