Child Identity Theft: Could it Happen to Your Family?

| February 23, 2012 More

The day started out innocently enough. We had recently changed banks and I stopped in to open new savings accounts for our children. A few minutes into the process, the bank representative looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked to see my oldest son’s Social Security card again. After verifying the number, he told me the news no parent wants to hear – someone had opened an account in another state using his Social Security number.

After a conversation with a manager, we were able to open the account and the customer service representative provided me with a copy of the information he had discovered. After a quick text to my husband, I sent an email to a friend who is a police officer. I had no idea where to begin and figured he could provide some advice. He told me to call my local police department right away to file a report over the phone. I called the non-emergency number and they sent a uniformed officer to my home.

I spent the next two to three weeks contacting credit bureaus, the bank where the account had been opened, and anyone else I could think of, in an attempt to determine exactly when and where his Social Security number had been used so we could begin damage control. Through this process I learned some important tips on what to do if you suspect your child’s Social Security number has been stolen.

  1. File a police report. Either call your local police department’s non-emergency number or go to the station in person. Do not call 911. Many agencies will not discuss anything with you unless you have a police report or case number.
  2. Contact all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to ask if your child has a credit report. A minor child should not have a report. If a report exists, you will want to obtain a copy to learn what information is contained in the report. TransUnion makes it simple, offering an online inquiry form for parents here. Equifax can be contacted at 1-877-322-8228 or at www.Equifax.com. Instructions for contacting Experian can be found at www.experian.com or by calling 1-888-EXPERIAN.
  3. Be sure to use methods that can be accurately tracked when sending information to credit bureaus.
  4. Be patient. This situation will not be solved in a day. Some information cannot be disclosed over the phone so you must wait for reports to arrive by U.S. Mail.

Fortunately our story had a happy ending. Several weeks later we learned that the use of our son’s number had been merely an administrative error. The bank account had been opened in the state where he was born (and subsequently had been issued a Social Security number). The individual opening the account likely had a very similar number to my son’s. The account was closed and I received verification from all three credit bureaus that no activity appeared on his credit reports.

Child identity theft is a growing problem, affecting tens of thousands of children in the United States every year. My hope is that your family is never affected. For more information, please visit www.ftc.gov or www.idtheftcenter.org.

Next time: How can you prevent child identity theft from happening in the first place?

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