You might think that children with no digital presence or credit are safe from scammers. Sadly, you’d be wrong. According to a study from Javelin Strategy and Research, last year, more than a million children were victims of child identity theft. A vast majority of the victims were under eight years old. What makes this type of scam so brutal is that often the victims don’t even realize their identity had been stolen until they reach adulthood. And as you might guess, by that point, things are a total wreck. If you have children — no matter what age — it’s time to think seriously about protecting their identities.
Here’s how to start.
Freeze Their Credit Before They Even Have Any
Freeze your child’s credit right from the start, with all three bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Yes, that means before they even start to crawl. A freeze for a minor is called a Protected Consumer Freeze. With this type of freeze, it’s either on or off. It cannot be temporarily lifted. Once they turn 18, your child will have access to a standard credit freeze, which offers more flexibility. They’ll be able to place and remove the freeze online and have the option to temporarily lift it for a specific time period when they apply for a loan or credit card.
Monitor Their Credit Along With Yours
There are several ways to check your own credit report along with your child’s. The official website to pull one, free credit report per year, per bureau, is www.annualcreditreport.com. However, don’t pull all three at once! Spread it out so you’re pulling one every 4 months. That way, you’re more likely to spot something fraudulent.
Hypothetically, If you pulled them all in January, you have to wait an entire year to pull one again. What if someone steals your credit in February? You won’t know for 11 months! But, if you pull Experian in January, TransUnion in May, and Equifax in September, you would have caught the thief only a few months in.
Money Federal Credit Union also offers its members free access to their credit score and report with “My Credit”. Members can enroll from their online banking account in the app or online. They get access to:
- Credit monitoring and real-time alerts
- A refreshed credit score once a day
- Access to their credit report once per month
- Suggestions on how to improve their credit score with Score Simulator
- Money-saving suggestions
Make a habit to pull your own credit report and your child’s at the same time.
Coach Them on Staying Safe Online
As your kids get older and start making their way online, talk to them about cyber security. Make sure they know their personal information is just that, personal.
- Rule number one is all profiles are private. Walk through the security settings of each social media app and explain to them why it’s important that strangers don’t have access to their photos, friends, or location.
- Never share personal information in public places. Things like birthdays, addresses, grandma’s last name, their pet’s name, their school, their location, or anything that can be used to steal their identity should never be anywhere in a public forum. That’s just spoon-feeding information to criminals.
- Teach them to be cautious. We aren’t suggesting they become cynics, but a little hesitation is healthy. Explain to them that if they ever encounter an email, text, call, or person asking for their information, they should talk to you right away. Scammers are smart and will use every tactic possible to get information they can use.
Think of this like teaching your kids good hygiene or how to use the bathroom. The earlier you do this, the more likely it will become a habit for them.
Lock up Documents
According to Marketwatch, in many cases of child identity theft, the thief is someone close to the family who had access to important documents like birth certificates or Social Security cards. Prevent this by locking away all the vital paperwork you have on your child. You can find small, fireproof safes that fit easily on a basement or closet shelf. Then, you’ll have all your important documents together in one safe place.
Open a Teen Account
You may think this is counterintuitive, but if you open a savings and checking account for your child with you as the joint owner, you can see where their money is going. If you notice they’re spending a lot at strange websites, just ask them about it. It might be legitimate, but you may also prevent fraud.
Also, show them how to check their own account. Teens usually have a cell phone in their face most of the day anyway. So, have them take 5 minutes to check their accounts online. They can check their balance, transactions, and when they turn 18, monitor their own credit! Set them up for financial success before they’re on their own.
We’re Here to Help Prevent Child Identity Theft
If you have questions about how to check credit or setting up a teen account, we’re here to help! Call, chat, text, or stop in. Our team is available M-F, 9am-4pm ET. (315) 671-4000.
Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.
– Adapted from Chris O’Shea at SavvyMoney