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A blank slate: Why thieves want your child's identity

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By HALEY KRAMER, KBOI

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - There's a laundry list of things you worry about as a parent, like your child's health, education and self esteem. You should also be concerned about their credit score.

Sunrise Ayers, deputy director of Idaho Legal Aid, say it's definitely something to keep an eye on because children are a prime target for identity theft.

"No one is monitoring the child's Social Security number or credit the way that people with a lot of assets would be monitoring their credit," Ayers said. "That's potentially, you know, 16, 17, 18 years of being able to use that Social Security number to open accounts."

Imagine your child is going off to college and decides to apply for a student loan only to be turned down because of credit they didn't know they had.

"When your child turns 18 and they're trying to take their first steps into the world and get themselves situated as an adult, if they hit this road block first thing out of the gate of having poor credit. It can be so disheartening and such a difficult thing for them to get over and recover from," Ayers said.

Children are basically a blank slate for credit and often don't apply for any until they turn 18. So, for thieves, there's a much lower risk of being caught.

"Often times they're taking a child's Social Security number only and not attaching it to their name, so they're able to open multiple accounts with different names with the same Social Security number" Ayers said.

The Federal Trade Commission says there are a few red flags to look out for:

  • Your child may start getting credit card offers or statements in the mail or receive collection calls.
  • They may be turned down for government benefits.
  • They might get a notice from the IRS saying they didn't pay income their taxes
  • Their Social Security number was used on another tax return
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Experts say sometimes family and friends are the ones responsible.

"It can be innocent where, for example, if parents are having trouble opening a new utility account, they might do it in their child's name so that they can get the utilities turned on, which is totally understandable," Ayers said. "If that account starts falling behind, now their child's credit is ruined. And also sometimes it can be a slippery slope."

There are a number of ways complete strangers can steal your child's identity.

"If you lose your child's Social Security card or you have your purse stolen and it had your child's Social Security card in there. Then, your child is at risk because once it's out there, then it can be stolen," Ayers said.

Even more common are security breaches.

"Any place that keeps children's Social Security numbers like schools, hospitals, when they have data breaches, then those children can be at risk of having their information stolen, resold and their identity compromised," Ayers said.

She says children in the foster care system are even more susceptible.

Ayers is a parent herself and stresses the importance of being aware of these risks. She says that's why it's so important to ask questions and see if there is an alternative to providing a Social Security number.

If it must be provided it is a good idea and your right to ask, "How long are you going to keep this number? What do you do when you don't need it anymore? When my child is no longer a patient here, no longer a student here, do you shred the records? What are your steps that you take to make sure that my child's identity is protected?"

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Experts recommend checking your child's credit score starting at age 16 unless you have reason to believe their identity has already been stolen.

If it was, there are ways to fix it. Experts say victims should fill out a document and submit it to the FTC.

"You can say, look, this is not my credit. I was under 18, because if you're under 18, you can't legally be entering into contracts for credit," Ayers said. "They may ask you to submit some additional documentation to follow up on that but that should get it cleared from your credit report."

The FTC says you should also contact the credit report companies and all of the creditors involved. There are also safeguards like fraud alerts or a credit freeze that can make it harder for someone to access your child's account.

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