By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Identity theft remains one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation – and Kansas is no exception. Last year, for the first time, identity theft was one of the top 10 categories of complaints received by our office.
While the most common forms of identity theft involve a stolen credit card or bank account number, a more startling trend has been the rise of crooks stealing and using a child’s social security number. The challenge with investigating this form of identity theft is that it can be many years before the victim even knows it has happened. Usually a problem isn’t discovered until your child is applying for college loans or their first credit card and red flags are raised on his or her credit report. The identity thief may have opened multiple accounts using your child’s social security number, and of course identity thieves usually aren’t very good at keeping up on their credit card payments.
The good news is there are some steps you can take to protect your child’s identity from being stolen.
First, keep all of your child’s personal documents, like birth certificates and social security cards, in a secure location, like a safe deposit box or a locked file cabinet. Be sure to shred any other documents containing your child’s personal information when they are no longer needed.
Second, don’t share your child’s social security number with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary and you trust the person you’re giving that information. If it is necessary to share the social security number, ask how that information will be stored and protected.
Third, check your child’s credit reports. This is especially important when they are entering the teen years and might be starting to apply for jobs, car loans or student loans. If your child is 14 or older, you can request a copy of his or her credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. If the reports come back showing that there is no credit history, that’s a good sign. If there are accounts listed on the credit report, that’s a red flag that your child may be the victim of identity theft. For children younger than 14, if you suspect your child may be the victim of identity theft you can contact the credit bureaus directly. They will require you to send some documentation to prove that you are the child’s legal guardian before giving you any information they have.
Fourth, consider placing a security freeze on your child’s social security number. This is essentially a padlock on your child’s credit report that does not allow it to be accessed until you unlock it. That means anyone who tries to open an account using that social security number would be blocked from doing so. Unfortunately, some of the credit bureaus only allow you to put a security freeze on a social security number once it has a credit file.
If you or your child does become a victim of identity theft, our consumer protection division can help. Begin by calling our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310 or file a complaint on our website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org. Our website also contains useful information on how to prevent identity theft, how to contact the credit bureaus, how to request a security freeze and many other important topics.