Parents and credit companies have an essential role to play in safeguarding children from identity theft — the fastest-growing form of identity fraud that affects 1 million American children each year.
Recent reporting from the Deseret News revealed the pervasiveness of this problem. In a study by credit agency Experian, researchers found a full one-third of cases of identity theft were perpetrated by a family member.
If purposely done for nefarious means, this is morally abhorrent and punishable by law. But another likely scenario exists in the form of plausible deniability — parents do not know how their behavior is putting their children in danger. Identity theft happens frequently to children who are exceptionally young — on average 12 years old — meaning their information is often endangered by parents who are not safeguarding their child’s data security.
If parents’ objective is to raise healthy, happy children capable of thriving as productive adults, then they must not overlook identity protection as an essential facet of child rearing. While most parents know to follow common sense in being protective over their child’s Social Security number, many may not know the harms attendant to being lackadaisical with personal information.
If parents’ objective is to raise healthy, happy children capable of thriving as productive adults, then they must not overlook identity protection as an essential facet of child rearing.
It is never safe or appropriate to write down a child’s Social Security number on paper — instead, it should only be given to trusted, verified sources and placed into encrypted databases. Parents and guardians should be sure to ask questions about data security at a child’s doctor, school or day care provider to ensure the digital safety of their child. Additionally, caretakers must be careful what they share on social media, avoiding the publication of passport information or identity cards online.
Parents have an acute responsibility to be proactive on this issue, as most victims do not find out about the fraud until many years later, often only after they reach adulthood and discover they are unable to take out loans on their already-ruined credit score. This victimization of innocent children could inflict years of frustration, or even trauma — it often takes decades to undo the web of bad credit that perpetrators spin onto stolen Social Security numbers.
While parents are responsible for safeguarding their child’s digital security, private credit agencies as well as government agencies can also do more in verifying the identities of loan applicants to ensure the identity being processed is not that of a minor. It’s curious that in an age of highly accurate digital verification, bad actors can too easily falsify information and obtain a credit card on the blank slate of a child’s credit history.
So long as this remains a problem, solutions must require the collaborative investment of different stakeholders to ensure the protection of American children.