You may not have thought much about your child’s credit yet, but perhaps you should.
More than a million children were the victims of identity theft in 2017, for a total of $2.8 billion in losses. Even more disturbing? A majority of these children were under age 8. That’s why you should consider freezing your child’s credit report to protect them from potential fraud.
Why Freeze Your Child’s Credit Report?
Children are vulnerable to identity theft. That’s because not only do they have all the necessary components an identity thief is looking for—a valid Social Security number, name, and address—but they will likely not be aware of any identity theft or fraudulent activity on their credit reports until they reach age 18 and apply for their first credit card. Worth noting: A child can obtain a credit card before their 18th birthday, but will need a co-signer to do so.
Freezing your child’s credit will help prevent your child’s identity from being used to open fake accounts, obtain fraudulent loans and mortgages, and other fraudulent activity.
A Fraud Alert Is Not the Same as a Credit Freeze
Children are also becoming victims of synthetic identity theft, which uses their Social Security number but a fake name and address (making it harder to track), and even financial aid fraud for the college-aged set. In short, it’s fast becoming a serious financial issue. That’s why freezing your child’s credit may be a smart financial move.
How To Freeze Your Child’s Credit
You can now freeze your child’s credit for free at the three major credit reporting agencies, (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) thanks to The Fair Credit Reporting Act. Each agency has separate requirements for doing so, and you should freeze your child’s credit with all three bureaus.
- For Equifax, you must mail a physical copy of this form, along with physical copies of the following: one form of identification for the parent or guardian, legal documentation proving you are the parent or guardian, and both the minor’s Social Security card and birth certificate.
- For Experian, you’ll need to provide both your and the minor’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, current mailing address, any addresses in the past two years, physical copies of the minor’s birth certificate and Social Security card, as well as a copy of your government issued ID, and a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, or insurance statement.
- TransUnion requires a written request to freeze the minor’s credit, proof that you are the legal guardian, such as a birth certificate or court order, as well as copies of both your Social Security cards, birth certificates, or driver’s licenses or government IDs.
But you shouldn’t just freeze your child’s credit. Be sure to continuously monitor your own accounts for fraudulent charges, and keep abreast of any potential data breaches at your child’s school, doctor’s office, or daycare center. In many cases, data breaches occurred through these avenues.
While freezing your child’s credit is an excellent step in protecting them from fraud, it can be lengthy and requires a fair amount of paperwork. And since the process is done via snail mail, it can take a few weeks to get a freeze in place.
One major downside? To freeze your child’s credit, you’ll have to send sensitive personal documents through the mail, which does present some identity theft risk. Ironic, right? But there’s really no way around this, as all three bureaus require you send physical documents to enact the freeze.
In some states, a credit freeze expires after seven years, so be sure to know what your state’s rules are since you may have to refreeze your child’s credit after the seven years is up. And freezing your child’s credit doesn’t protect them from synthetic identity theft, which uses your child’s Social Security number paired with a false name and address.
- Consider freezing your child’s credit. Be sure to follow each bureau’s directions, as they are all slightly different.
- Keep an eye out for any data breaches at places that have access to your child’s personal information. These include doctor’s offices, schools, or daycare centers.
- Don’t forget to monitor your credit report for fraudulent activity, as well, especially if your child is an authorized user on any of your accounts.
- Keep hard copies of important documents such as your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate, and any accounts linked to their name (like a 529 college savings plan) in a secure place. If you like to keep your documents on the cloud, be sure it’s in a password-protected file, with a hard-to-guess password, and change the password regularly.
- If you have a policy with an identity theft protection agency like LifeLock, consider adding your minor child to your policy. It’s a relatively seamless process, inexpensive, and can help give you peace of mind.
- If your child is under the age of 14, you can request a free credit report from an online credit reporting agency such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Each agency has different rules for requesting the report. Regularly perusing your child’s credit report is a great way to prevent identity theft.