Parents are in the business of protecting their children, doing everything from holding their youngster's hand in parking lots to talking about fire safety.
And now, it appears, parents have another task to add to their to-do list: Protecting their child's identity.
Child identity theft - which occurs when a thief uses a child's personal information to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, loans or a mortgage - is a rising national trend.
"Children aren't applying for any type of credit until they reach adulthood, so if their Social Security number is used, it may go undetected for an extended period of time, making it advantageous for the criminal to use," says Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter, a crime prevention officer.
Baxter is not aware of the crime occurring locally, but he urges parents to take precautions to prevent their child from becoming the next victim. Consider these tips from Baxter and the Federal Trade Commission:
- Limit how often you share your child's Social Security number. When a school or medical facility requests the number, for instance, ask whether it's necessary, how they will safeguard the information and how it will be destroyed. If you're not satisfied with the answers, provide an alternative form of identification.
- Keep your family's personal information, including Social Security cards and birth certificates, safely locked up. "We've all known someone who's lost their wallet or purse, or had it stolen," Baxter says. "And the long-term ramifications, which can include identity theft, are not worth it."
- Before you throw away documents containing your child's personal information, shred them. "You'd be surprised how often someone's garbage or recyclables get compromised by people looking for personal information," Baxter says.
- Talk to your children about the importance of guarding their personal information, especially when they're using social networking sites. "Without instilling too much fear, you want to talk about what can potentially happen," Baxter says. "It comes down to their safety and keeping their identity theirs."
- Know the warning signs of identity theft.
- If you suspect identity theft, contact the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion); the IRS; your local law enforcement agency; and file an identity theft report with the FTC. "I don't think you can report it enough," Baxter says. "It's important to get it documented as much as you can."
- Check whether your child has a credit report by contacting the credit reporting companies close to her 16th birthday. That way, if you find a report with errors, you can work on correcting them before your child needs credit. You will have to provide proof that you are the child's parent or legal guardian.
Click here for a step-by-step guide, including necessary forms, on reporting child identity theft and checking whether your child has a credit report.
By Emily Kittle