How to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft

Find out why kids are at high-risk for fraud—and how to safeguard them.

A dad and his child are freezing the child's credit on a tablet.
Teach your child to keep their personal information safe online.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Child identity theft can be life-altering. “And it's not always easy to unwind either,” says James E. Lee, chief operating officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Put simply, identity theft is when a person’s personal information (think: social security number, date of birth, or address) is used to open credit cards, apply for loans, or sign up for government benefits. And it’s not just a problem for adults: Identity theft affects more than 1.25 million kids in the United States annually—that’s one out of 50 children—according to a November 2021 report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

It’s all too common for child identity theft to go unnoticed for years, even decades, says Lee. Often, it’s only discovered during major life events, such as applying for financial aid for college or opening a first bank account, he says.

Here’s what parents and guardians need to know about safeguarding their child’s identity.

How to Protect Your Child’s Identity

1. Freeze their credit.

The most comprehensive step parents and guardians can take is to freeze their child’s credit, Lee says. “That's the only preventative action that today is highly effective,” he says.

While this can be done at any time, it’s best to get the freeze in place before your child begins school or starts using apps and browsing online, which can expose their personal information if there is a data breach.

To freeze your child’s credit, send a hard-copy letter to each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Look on each credit bureaus’ website for details on what to include in your letter, where to send it, and any required documentation, such as a copy of your child’s birth certificate and a copy of your driver's license. Both Equifax and Experian have forms you can download, print, and fill out.

Smart Tip: While you’re at it, freeze your own credit if you haven’t already. The process is less cumbersome than freezing a child’s, and experts say it’s a step everyone should take.

A mom takes a selfie with her young son.

Social media can share more than you mean to.

Artem Varnitsin / Shutterstock

2. Be choosy about sharing personal details.

Many reputable organizations, such as schools, may ask for your child’s social security number. Before passing it along, ask how this information will be used and protected, and if you can use the last four digits instead of the full number, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends.

Social media posts can also share more than you mean to. Identity thieves can collect valuable details, such as your child’s hometown or school, through posts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other sites. Keep social media privacy settings as narrow as possible, Lee says. “Be careful about what you post, but more importantly, be careful to whom you post it,” he says.

3. Teach kids to keep information private.

Make sure children know not to give out personal information over apps, on websites, or over the phone.

4. Use best practices to dispose of paperwork and electronics.

Keep paperwork in a secure location and shred any documents with your child’s social security number or other personal details. Before recycling or selling electronics, make sure you’ve wiped your data.

A dad sits with his daughter at the kitchen table while working on his phone.

Look out for unexpected phone calls and mail that may alert you to fraudulent activity.

Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock

How to Spot Identity Theft

Catch problems sooner by familiarizing yourself with signs of identity theft, including:

  • Suspicious mail, phone calls, or text messages. Be on the lookout for solicitations, such as emailed or mailed offers for credit cards, insurance, or other services in your child’s name. Debt collection phone calls are another tipoff. "These are classic signs your child’s identity has been compromised," Lee says.
  • Being turned down for governmental benefits. This can occur when a person is already using a child’s social security number, per the FTC.
  • A letter from the IRS. Sometimes, identity theft comes to light when the IRS or state-level revenue services get in touch to request tax payments. This is the result of someone using your child’s social security number on job-related tax forms, according to the FTC.

If you haven’t frozen your child’s credit, check it yearly with each of the credit bureaus. This won’t stop people from using your child’s personal information, but it will help you catch it, Lee says.

What to do if Your Child’s Personal Information is Being Used

Ideally, you’ll prevent identity theft, which can have a huge, and traumatic, impact, Lee says. But if your dependent or child’s personal information is taken, here’s what you’ll need to do to fix it:

  • Close any accounts. If someone has opened a credit card, for instance, get in touch with the credit card company to close it.
  • Notify the credit bureaus. Inform the three credit bureaus of suspected fraud. Request a credit report, and then ask for fraudulent accounts to be removed.
  • Freeze your child’s credit. If you haven’t already, freeze your child’s credit with each of the three credit bureaus.
  • Report the identity theft. The FTC has a dedicated website for reporting identity theft.