Everyone with a Social Security number is at risk for identity theft, but two demographics are targeted aggressively and often: the very young and the very old.
According to the FTC, in 2019 there were almost 24,000 reported fraud cases in individuals aged 19 and under, for a total of $14 million.1 That’s up from 14,000 cases in 2017.
Children are targeted because identity thieves can use a child’s Social Security numbers to establish a fraudulent “clean slate.” Scammers will use your child’s Social Security number to open bank and credit card accounts, take out loans, or apply for employment.
If you’re a parent, you should be concerned about scammers targeting your kids. However, you can take steps to protect your kids and help them learn how to avoid scammers.
The first step in protecting your children from online scams is to educate yourself on the types of scams currently floating around the Internet.
- One type of scam is the free trial offer, which claims to provide a free one-month trial of some “amazing” product. The fine print usually states that after the trial period, you’ll be paying for the product once a month … forever.
- Fake Wi-Fi hotspots are another hazard. Avoid free hotspots.
- Social media and email messages indicating you’ve won an expensive prize or should enter a contest to win an expensive prize.
- Bogus pop-ups warning of supposed viruses and malware. This often looks like legitimate antivirus programs, but what you’re doing to “fix” your computer is infecting it with a virus.
Watch for the Warning Signs
The FTC lists several warning signs that your child’s Social Security Number is being misused including:
- Receiving pre-approved credit offers in the mail.
- Getting turned down for government benefits.
- Getting a notice from the IRS that your child didn’t pay income taxes.
- Receiving calls about unpaid bills.
Protect Their Information
The best protection is to limit the amount of your child’s data you share with others.
- Don’t share information like your child’s Social Security Number unless it is required. If the school asks for their SSN, ask if you can provide another identifying number. Also, ask how they safeguard that information.
- Keep documents with your child’s personal information safe – just like your own.
- Shred documents with their information before throwing them away.
- Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy.
- Take action if a data breach happens at your child’s school.
Talk with Your Children
Before your child goes online, make sure you talk to them about scammers and how they try to lure in victims.
- Make sure your kids know to never give out their personal information online unless they get your permission first.
- Warn your kids about clicking unknown links in an email or a pop-up ad.
- Help protect your kids online by installing software and parental controls.
What to do if Your Child Becomes a Victim
If you suspect your child’s information is being misused, the FTC recommends:
- Contact all three credit reporting agencies. Ask them to remove any fraudulent accounts from your child’s credit report. Explain that your child is a minor and provide a copy of their birth certificate.
- Consider adding a credit freeze until your child is old enough to use credit. This makes it harder to open new accounts in your child’s name.
- Report Identity Theft to the FTC online or call 877-ID-THEFT.
- Contact companies where the fraud occurred and tell them someone opened a fraudulent account using your child’s identity. Ask them to close the account and send you a letter confirming your child isn’t liable. If needed, send a letter explaining your child is a minor who can’t enter into contracts and attach a copy of your child’s birth certificate.
The threat of child identity theft is real. Children can be the victim of a scammer just as much as adults. However, by taking a few simple steps, you can help keep your children safe from online threats.