Identity thieves are increasingly targeting children. One major reason for this disturbing trend is that criminal activity can go undetected for many years. Often it’s only later, when the child is a young adult and attempting to rent an apartment or get a credit card, that the identity theft is discovered. Another reason children are targeted is the fact that they don’t have any credit history, making them a blank slate for fraudsters to exploit.
Thankfully a new law that requires credit bureaus to offer credit freezes at no charge applies to children too. Unfortunately, the law does not require the credit bureaus to make the process easy. There are a few nuances in how each credit bureau works that are explored below.
The first step parents should take is to determine if a credit file exists for each of their children. If a fraudster is using your child’s social security number, this will very likely result in a credit file being established with the major credit bureaus. Therefore, if you can confirm that no report exists, then it is highly unlikely that your child is a victim. Generally speaking, there are only three reasons why a young child would have a credit file:
1) The child is listed as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card
2) A parent contacted the credit reporting agencies to establish a credit file (in order to immediately freeze it)
3) Someone is using the child’s Social Security number to commit fraud
The best place to start is with TransUnion because they have the easiest and fastest way to determine if your child has a credit file. All you need to do is enter your information and your child’s information here: www.transunion.com/credit-disputes/child-identity-theft-inquiry-form. After submitting the form, TransUnion will search their records to determine if any credit report exists. I did this with my oldest son (age 7), and I received a confirmation email within a couple hours letting me know that no credit report exists in their database that is tied to his Social Security number. I immediately tried my younger son’s info (age 4) and it took a few days to hear back, but the news was the same: no credit file exists.
The email response from TransUnion also included detailed instructions on how to freeze my sons’ credit. This process is basically the same for all of the credit bureaus. To freeze a child’s credit, you will need to send in copies of documents proving the identity of you and your child. In most cases this can be accomplished with copies of your drivers’ license, the child’s social security, and birth certificate. Unfortunately, Experian and Equifax also require these documents to even check their database to determine if a credit file exists.
All three agencies will accept copies of the necessary documents by mail. However, many parents are not comfortable with the idea of dropping copies of such sensitive documents into a mailbox. TransUnion also provides a fax option, which is likely to be the preferred method for most parents.
Experian instructions can be found here: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Equifax instructions can be found here: https://homrichberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Minor_Freeze_Request_Form.pdf
The process can seem daunting at first, but once the credit freeze is in place it will stay in place until it is removed. This is the most effective step you can take to protect your children from becoming a victim of identity theft.