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You’ve probably heard that checking your credit report each year is important, but did you ever think to check your child’s credit as well?
More than 1 million children were victims of identity fraud in 2017, resulting in $540 million in out-of-pocket costs to their families, according to the 2018 Javelin Child Identity Fraud Study.
“Most people are not paying attention to the child’s identity information or credit report at an early age,” says Michael Bruemmer, vice president of consumer protection at Experian. However, once a child is born and is issued a Social Security number, they have an official identity, making them just as vulnerable as anyone else.
In fact, a young child with a nonexistent or pristine credit record might be an especially attractive target for ID thieves because they know it might take years for the fraud to be discovered, says Bruemmer. In severe cases, an ID thief might assume a child’s entire identity to secure lines of credit, car loans, mortgages, immigration status, or health insurance.
That’s why regularly monitoring your child’s credit report, just as you do yours, is important. Learn more about child identity theft, and the steps to checking a child’s credit report.
Who are the most likely culprits?
Although you might think child ID theft is random, 60% of victims say they actually knew the perpetrator; often times it’s a parent or another family member, according to Javelin research. This is especially true for children who live in foster homes, adds Bruemmer.
What are some warning signs to look for?
In almost half of reported child ID theft cases, respondents in Experian’s Child Identity Theft Aftermath Survey said it was either a bill or a pre-approved credit card application coming in the mail in the child’s name, or a call from a collection agency that sent up a red flag.
“Any type of mail that shouldn’t be delivered to a child, either from a government institution or a utility company, is a good indicator that you need to look further to see what’s going on,” says Bruemmer.
How long does it take to correct ID theft once discovered?
While the Experian survey found it took families an average of three years to fully remove the damages of child ID theft, it really depends on the extent of the fraud, and how long it went on before it was discovered, says Bruemmer.
The recovery process is the same as what an adult victim would face, but there is an extra step that adds more time, he explains. “The parent or guardian will have to go through an authentication process with documents and speak to an agent first,” says Bruemmer, in order to make doubly sure that you are in fact the child’s guardian.
When is it a good time/age to check a child’s credit report?
With the average age of child identity theft victims being 12 years old, as per the Experian survey, the earlier you inquire to see if there is a credit file on them, the better. And remember: “If you request a credit report for your child and get nothing back, that’s a good thing,” says Bruemmer. It means that no accounts are active in the child’s name. However, if your child listed as a joint bank account holder, or as an authorized user on your credit card account, there will be a file and that’s perfectly fine.
You can request one free report from each bureau – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – every year. Bruemmer recommends staggering your requests so that every four months you are pulling one report for each family member. That way, you are keeping tabs three times a year, rather than just once.
Steps to take to check a child’s credit report
1. Contact all three credit bureaus.
Each one has its own process for requesting to see if your child has a credit report, either by written request or via an online form. Start the process by visiting the credit bureaus’ specific credit report requests for minors pages:
2. Be ready with all of the proper documentation.
Because you can’t simply request a credit report on behalf of another person with no questions asked, be prepared to supply copies of documents like birth certificates, photo ID, or additional proof you’re the child’s legal guardian.
3. If you discover fraud, act immediately.
If you suspect that your child’s identity has been compromised, you should contact the fraud departments of all three credit bureaus right away. Another helpful resource that can help guide you is the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity theft. It offers a toll-free hotline 888-400-5530 and live chat assistance to walk you through your next steps.
4. Consider freezing your child’s credit reports.
Thanks to 2018 updates to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to request a credit freeze for children under 16 years of age. If they don’t have a credit file, the bureaus will create one for them, and then freeze it.
A freeze prevents any new accounts from being opened in the child’s name. You’ll have to make this request with each bureau separately, and it can’t be done online or over the phone.
To request a freeze via Experian and Equifax, print and complete the forms found on their respective sites, and mail along with requested copies of documents. For a TransUnion freeze, there is no form; just send a written request along with requested documents.
When it comes to protecting your child’s identity, “it’s always good to be like Chicken Little,” says Bruemmer. Keep an eye on their credit profiles, and the moment you suspect something is amiss, don’t hesitate to contact the credit bureaus.