by Carol Kando-Pineda, Attorney, Federal Trade Commission
Right about now is the time when many of us are searching for scholarships and financial aid for our college-bound kids. Or maybe Junior is interviewing for his first job — or Muffy is buying her first car. In the middle of the paperwork, you might get a nasty surprise: your child’s credit report shows unpaid bills and a loan default.
What? My child’s credit report? Children and young teens aren’t even legally able to open credit accounts on their own; you wouldn’t expect them to have a credit report. So what happened? Most likely, it’s identity theft.
A child's Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits and tax refunds, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. The best way to know if your child’s information is being misused is to check for a credit report. Even if you don’t suspect identity theft, it’s a good idea to see if there is a credit file on your child. Do a check at their 16th birthday. And if needed, take action immediately. That way, if it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you’ll have time to correct it before Junior applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.
1. Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
2. Ask for a manual search of the child’s file. The companies will check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, and for files related only to the child’s Social Security number.
The credit reporting companies may require copies of:
Remember to keep copies of any letters you send, and record the dates and details of any calls. If your child’s information was misused, call each credit reporting company to ask them to remove all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number. Send a letter confirming that request. Explain that the child is a minor and include a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration [PDF]. Ask each company to put a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. Contact one company; that company will contact the other two.
You’ll also want to contact every business where your child’s information was misused. Ask each business to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft. File a report with the FTC online or call 877-438-4338. Your complaint can be used as an Affidavit to create an Identity Theft Report that gives your child some important rights when clearing up identity theft. Learn more about recovering from and protecting against child Identity Theft.