If you’re a parent, you probably haven’t thought much about your child’s credit history—it isn’t likely that Little Otis has being swiping an Amex around town. But because kids’ files are largely ignored, identity thieves see them as a sweet target. Twenty-five percent of children will be affected by identity fraud or theft before they turn 18, according to an estimate by Experian, and the victims will often have no idea they’ve been exploited until they become young adults and are suddenly rejected for jobs, student loans and places to live.
One thing you can do now is check to see if there is a credit report open in your kid’s name. A new law is making it easier for you to do so, and also freeze files at no cost. You should do this ASAP if you’ve noticed any red flags of identity theft—for instance, your kid has received a strange bill in the mail.
Follow the instructions given by each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’ll typically need to have a government-issued identification card, proof of your address, a copy of your child’s birth certificate, and a copy of your child’s Social Security card.
If your child does not have a credit file, great—most young kids shouldn’t. If you find out that one exists, place a freeze on it. Here’s how to do it for Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Be sure to also call the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert or identity theft report on the credit file. When the new law takes effect on September 21, the three credit reporting bureaus must launch a webpage for consumers to request both fraud alerts and credit freezes, so that should make the process easier.
Also know that your children don’t have to be victims of identity theft for you to freeze their credit proactively. Just keep checking on their credit reports annually to make sure nothing changes.