By Drew M Smith
Protecting your identity has become one of the biggest concerns for the average consumer. Having your identity stolen can be disastrous for your reputation and your credit. Thus, the reason why many go to extreme lengths to protect their identifying numbers, like their Social Security and their credit card information. However, a disturbing trend has come up in the area of identity theft and it isn’t targeting adults, rather it’s their kids that are being targeted.
Most parents register their kids and obtain a Social Security number. This number is typically not used until they are 18, except for savings accounts and similar reasons. Most kids do not grow up worrying about their credit or their identity and thus do not check them regularly. This unfortunately opens them to the possibility of theft by “Identity Theft Rings.” Some of this population may not check their credit for years. Thus, it provides an opportunity for identity thieves to use someone’s identity for years until they get discovered.
These stolen numbers are often turned over to undocumented workers so they can then get jobs here in the U.S. In a 2012 House of Representatives committee meeting, it was estimated that 75% of undocumented workers get jobs this way at the expense of those too young to have one. Among the many examples of what the thefts have done to people, an eleven year old girl was not able to be claimed as a dependent on her parent’s tax return because she apparently made too much money. In another example, two girl’s numbers were used multiple times to get illegal workers their green cards, a necessity for anyone from another country working in the U.S.1
The reason why they go after children’s social security is threefold. First, because they have not purchased anything with credit, which requires a social security number, it is essentially a virgin number that can be used to establish someone else’s credit. Second, no one in that age bracket would check their numbers until they have to apply for their job or credit, something that normally doesn’t happen until they turn 16. Third, in most states, parents who are worried about their child’s credit cannot go into their credit report due to the lack of laws in those states. Twenty three of them, including Florida, Texas and New York, provide ways to create and then freeze that report, called credit freezing, or setting up flags to alert them in case there is a problem. Unfortunately, many states do not and any help at the federal level is far away, as the proposed Protect Children from Identity Theft Act has little chance of getting out of the House.2
The Following are the 23 states, including the District of Columbia, that do allow parents to place a credit freeze on their child’s credit.
Some states allow anyone to place a credit freeze on their child’s credit until they are ready to take control of it. Some, like Hawaii, require you to be a resident of the state in order to do so. Others like Arizona go further. In Arizona, the rule is that at the time of the freeze, a parent, guardian or an appointed representative of a “Protected Person”, meaning the person is under 16 or someone who is incapacitated, can apply for the freeze on behalf of the person. Each state has different rules, or doesn’t have them at all, so be sure to check the state before you move forward with the credit freeze.
As with an identity, protecting and insuring it is a priority. Tracking your children’s identity issues can get tricky without going through legal channels. In states that do allow parental interference, you should find out how to create reports and then lock them up until your child needs them. In those that don’t, monitor your child’s or dependent’s number through the various credit monitoring sites. Any number can be stolen, but at the moment, those that are too young to use them are the most valuable.