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.