Most people are acutely aware of the need to protect their identities, but parents may not realize that their children face the same threats. Child identity theft is dangerous because a child's credit history is basically a blank slate, and the probability of discovery is extremely low because most parents don't monitor their child's identity or credit history. In many cases, the theft may not be identified for years until the child applies for a student loan, takes out a credit card or makes a major purchase requiring a credit check.

Sometimes, parents are lucky and realize there might be a problem when they start getting calls or notices from bill collectors for unpaid balances on cars their child can't possibly own or credit cards that haven't been opened by anyone in the family. For children who don't find out about the problem until they are adults, the results can be devastating.

The number one identifier usually compromised is the child's Social Security number. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab, Social Security numbers are particularly valuable to thieves because they can be paired with any name and any birthdate, something prized for anyone involved in illegal immigration. They can be used to apply for jobs, a mortgage, a driver's license, utilities, phone and other services.  Alessandro Acquisti, a CyLab researcher, says their investigation found that "criminals are increasingly targeting minors' (even infants') SSNs for identity theft, and the SSNs of younger U.S. residents are much easier to predict than the SSNs of those born before the 1990s."

Identifying information is frequently stolen by someone close to the child, a family member, care giver or close family friend. The risk of child identity theft seems to be higher in lower income households. A 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report by the Identity Theft Assistance Center found that 50% of the households affected by child identity theft had incomes under $35,000, while only 10% of households with incomes over $100,000 reported problems with theft.

When a child is victimized by this type of theft, it can take a year or longer to resolve the issues associated with it, and according to the Child Identity Fraud Report, child identity fraud is much harder to resolve than adult fraud.

Here are some factors to keep in mind to protect your child's identity.

Protect legal documents


1. Keep all personal information in a safe place. This includes Social Security numbers, birth certificates, passports and children's birth dates. Only share the information with people whom you trust and ask them how it will be used, why they need it and how they will dispose of it. Don't share any information through an unsecured wireless connection in a public place.

Schools may request Social Security numbers or other personal identifying information. Ask if this is necessary or if other information can be used to identify the child.

Teach children about sharing information

2. Talk to your children about sharing information with outsiders. Teach them not to post information on the Internet or social media sites, not to give out information over the phone or to anyone who asks them for it.

Tell them about scams they might encounter online and teach them to protect their passwords and logins for sites.

Protect computers from malware and spyware, and make sure to keep virus software up to date.

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