TRENTON, NJ – On National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day on September 1, the New Jersey Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs urged parents to make data safety a priority by learning about child identity theft, detecting and avoiding it, and what to do if someone steals a child’s identity.
A 2022 survey sponsored by AARP found that 915,000 children were the victim of identity theft between July 2021 and July 2022 and that 1.7 million children were affected by data breaches that exposed – and potentially compromised – their personal information.
“With more and more children spending longer hours online, at increasingly younger ages, the issue of child identity theft is taking on new and concerning relevance,” said First Assistant Attorney General Lyndsay V. Ruotolo. “Today we join states across the nation in spreading awareness of data threats facing children in the digital age and educating parents on how to safeguard against them.”
Carl Fais, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, noted that kids are big business for identity thieves.
“Untapped credit history and freshly issued Social Security numbers make children blank slates for fraudsters who can use their names to apply for credit, take out loans, and commit other crimes that can go undetected for years, often with devastating consequences, Fais said.
The Attorney General’s Office and Division of Consumer Affairs offer the following tips to protect against child identity theft.
What Is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft happens when someone takes a child’s sensitive personal information and uses it to get services or benefits or to commit fraud. They might use your child’s Social Security number, name and address, or date of birth. They could use the stolen information to:
- Open a bank or credit card account
- Apply for a loan
- Sign up for a utility service, like water or electricity
- Rent a place to live
How to Keep Kids’ Private Information from Falling into the Wrong Hands
Here are some steps you can take to protect your child from identity theft:
- Don’t share your child’s personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ask whether your child’s doctor needs his or her Social Security number or if you could provide the last four digits. If you must provide it to his or her school, ask how the information will be protected and who can access it.
- Secure your child’s important documents in a locked file cabinet, safety deposit box, or safe place. This includes your child’s Social Security card, birth certificate, medical insurance card, and passport. By shredding your child’s personal information, dispose of medical bills or other documents. If you don’t have a shredder, look for a local shred day in your community.
- Avoid storing your child’s sensitive information on your cell phone and computer. To safeguard any data those devices might contain, learn how to safely dispose of your unwanted computer and protect your cell phone from hackers.
- Challenge your child to become a Cyber Savvy Youth and empower them to protect their information online actively. Set rules for what information cannot be shared online. Talk to them about politely refusing when asked to share personal information online or in person. Help them set strong passwords on accounts and devices.
- Monitor kids’ online activity. Children often become victims of identity theft and subsequent fraud because they give out personal information, because of a data breach or scam, or by having a social media or email account taken over.
How to Spot the Red Flags of Child Identity Theft
In addition to taking steps to safeguard your child’s personal information, keep an eye out for warning signs that someone is using your child’s personal information. Here are a few:
- You’re denied government benefits (like health care coverage or nutrition assistance) because someone is already using your child’s Social Security number to get those benefits.
- Someone calls you and says your child has an overdue bill, but it’s not an account you opened for the child.
- You get a letter from the IRS that says your child didn’t pay income taxes. This could happen if someone used your child’s Social Security number on tax forms for a new job.
- You’re denied a student loan for your child because your child has bad credit. This could happen if someone used your child’s Social Security number to get a credit card, open a cell phone account, or set up a utility service and has not paid the bills on time or at all.
- Your child receives pre-approved offers of credit or insurance or other age-inappropriate junk mail in their own name.
What to Do if Your Child is the Victim of Identity Theft
If you discover that someone is using your child’s personal information, here are the immediate steps to take:
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the theft and get a recovery plan.
- Contact your local law enforcement and get a police report.
- Contact companies’ fraud departments where accounts were opened in your child’s name. Ask them to close the account and send you a letter of confirmation. You may need to provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate and a police report.
- Contact the nationwide credit bureaus to alert them to the fraudulent activity.
- If your child is under 16, request a free credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, to make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your child’s name. To activate a credit freeze, contact each of the three credit bureaus. You can find their contact information at gov.
–With Jay Domingo/PDM