Identity thieves have broadened their reach by obtaining children's inactive Social Security numbers and using them to illegally get jobs, credit accounts, mortgages or car loans and much worse.
Many victims, because they are children, have no idea there is a problem until they apply for a student loan, bank account, job or apartment and are turned down because of poor credit history.
Each person's Social Security Number (SSN) is unique, so it is not uncommon for schools, healthcare providers, insurance companies and others to require that parents provide a SSN as an identification tool. However, don't be afraid to ask:
- Why do they need an SSN? Is there a legal requirement and if so, what is it?
- Will they accept alternative identification?
- What will happen if you don't disclose the SSN?
- What security precautions do they take with personal information?
- Will they agree not to use the SSN as your child's personal identification number on correspondence, account statements or ID cards?
Warning signs your child's personal data might have been compromised include:
Receiving pre-approved credit account offers, although there may be legitimate reasons why your child is receiving those credit offers. For example, if you opened a college fund or they enrolled in a frequent flyer program.
Calls from collection agencies, creditors or government agencies.
You are denied opening a bank account in their name because one already exists with the same Social Security number.
They are denied credit, employment, a driver's license or college enrollment for unknown or credit-related reasons.
If you think someone is using your child's Social Security number fraudulently, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338); or TTY 866-653-4261. The FTC website also contains information on fraud alerts, credit freezes, working with the police and much more.
File a police report and keep a copy as proof of the crime.
Contact the fraud units at the three major credit bureaus: Equifax Consumer Fraud Division (800-525-6825), Experian's National Consumer Assistance (888-397-3742) and TransUnion's Fraud Victim Assistance Department (800-680-7289).
Ask Social Security (800-772-1213) whether anyone has reported income using your child's SSN. Search "Identity Theft" at www.ssa.gov for information.
Contact the IRS' Identity Protection Unit www.irs.gov/privacy (800-980-4490), as an identity thief might use the SSN to file a tax return in order to get a refund.
You should also file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov .
The IC3 gives victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations.
Use the same precautions with your child's personal information as you do with your own. Be sure you know the warning signs and what to do if you suspect your child's Social Security number has been compromised.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.