Child Identity Theft

Child identity theft happens when someone uses a minor’s personal information to commit fraud. A thief may steal and use a child’s information to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, car loans, or a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering, and undoing the damage resulting from the theft of a child’s identity can be a challenge.

Adults can monitor their own credit reports every few months to see if someone has misused their information, and order a fraud alert or freeze on their credit files to stymie further misuse. But most parents and guardians don’t expect their youngster to have a credit file, and as a result, rarely request a child’s credit report, let alone review it for accuracy. A thief who steals a child’s information may use it for many years before the crime is discovered. The victim may learn about the theft years later, when applying for a loan, apartment, or job.

Until recently, very little was known about the scope of the crime and how the stolen information is used. ITAC sponsored the 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report to get verifiable data that can be used to develop solutions to identity theft.

2012 Child Identity Theft Key Findings

  • Social Security numbers are the most commonly used piece of information by identity thieves targeting children. In fact, 56% of respondents reported theft or misuse of a child's SSN.
  • The most common way criminals use a child's personal information is to combine a child’s Social Security number with a different date of birth to create a new identity that can be used to commit fraud. Fraud involving “synthetic identity” is especially difficult for victims and industry to detect.
  • The study found that 2.5 percent of U.S. households with children under age 18 experienced child identity fraud at some point during their child's lifetime.  This equates to one in 40 households with minor children being affected by this crime. 
  • Fraud committed by family and friends is to blame in many child ID theft cases.  The data shows that 27 percent of respondents reported knowing the individual responsible for the crime.
  • Low-income households are disproportionately affected by child identity theft.  As family income decreases, the risk of child identity fraud increases.  While 50 percent of households of child identity theft victims had incomes under $35,000, only ten percent of households of child identity theft victims had incomes of more than $100,000.
  • Child identity theft is more difficult to detect and resolve than adult identity theft. The survey showed that these crimes took 334 days to detect and 44 hours to resolve, and 17 percent of children were victimized for a year or longer.

Protecting Your Child’s Identity: Keep Your Child’s Personal Information Safe

Parents do a lot to protect their children from physical harm, from teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street to making sure they’re dressed warmly for a snowy day. Protecting their personal information is important, too. Here’s how:

  • Keep all documents that show a child’s personal information safely locked up. What is personal information? At a minimum, it includes a child’s date of birth, Social Security number, and birth certificate. Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card with you.
  • Share your child’s Social Security number only when you know and trust the other party. If someone asks for your child’s Social Security number, ask why they want it, how they’ll safeguard it, how long they’ll keep it, and how they’ll dispose of it. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t share the number. Ask to use another identifier.
  • Before you share personal information on the internet, make sure you have a secure connection. A secure website has a lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with “https.”
  • Use a computer with updated antivirus and firewall protection. Don’t send personal or financial information – your child’s or your own, for that matter – through an unsecured wireless connection in a public place.
  • If you use a password to sign into a website, log out of the site when you’re done on that site.
  • Limit the chances that your child’s information will be stolen or misused at school. Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and read the notices that schools are required to send explaining your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). That law protects the privacy of student education records, and gives you the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties, including other families.

Safely Dispose of Personal Information

Your trash could be a treasure trove of information for an identity thief. Before you get rid of information on paper or online, make sure no one else can use it. Shred letters, forms, and other papers that include your child’s personal information before you throw them out.

Delete electronic computer files that you no longer need, and empty your online trash or recycle bin.

Learn how to remove your personal or financial information that might be stored on your computer, cell phone, or other device before you dispose of it.

Share Safety Tips With Your Child

Your computer can hold enormous amounts of information, and it’s crucial that it stays secure. Talk to your child about best practices for computer security, including:

  • using “strong” passwords  – those with at least eight characters, as well as numbers and symbols
  • keeping passwords private
  • knowing the risks of sharing files through peer to peer software, which may include giving someone access to more information on your computer than you want to share
  • using anti-virus software that updates automatically
  • being alert to phishing scams, where criminals send an email, text, or pop-up message that looks like it’s from a legitimate organization. A phishing message asks the recipient to click on a link or call a phone number, and to share personal information for a prize or some other benefit. The message to kids: delete these messages without opening or responding.
  • Talk with your child regularly about the privacy settings on social media sites and what information and photos to share on them. For example, it’s not a great idea to show photos with school or team uniforms, list birth dates or specific locations, or show background settings that are easy to identify. One reason? Someone can use the information posted on a social media profile to guess account passwords.

Warning Signs of Child Identity Theft

Personal circumstances may increase the risk of child identity theft – an adult in financial hot water, for example, may think “adopting” a child’s identity is a way to start over. But using someone else’s identity, regardless of the reason, is a crime. Identity theft can be committed by a family member, a neighbor, or by someone you never met who gets access to your child’s information. Several signs can tip you off to a problem:

  • You get calls from collection agencies, bills from credit card companies or medical providers, or offers for credit cards or bank account checks in your child’s name, even if your child has never applied for or used these services.
  • Your child, or your family, is denied government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account that is using your child’s Social Security number.
  • The Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or some other government agency asks you to confirm that your child is employed, even though your child has never had a job.
  • After you file a tax return listing your dependent child’s name and Social Security number, you get notice from the IRS that the same information is listed on another tax return.
  • Your child gets a notice from the IRS saying he or she failed to pay taxes on income, even though your child has no income.


Safeguarding Your Child's Future

Safeguarding your child's future

Related Facts and tools about Child Identity Theft


Copyright © 2013    ITAC, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, is the national advocate for identity theft victims and a leading voice on identity policy. Millions of consumers have access to the ITAC victim assistance service through our members - the financial services companies who support ITAC and offer it as a free service for their customers. ITAC is dedicated to protecting all consumers through education, research and the criminal prosecution of identity crime.