My Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen – How Did This Happen?

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Lyndon Seitz
Writer
Dolores Bernal
Editor
September 22, 2023

While you’re well aware of the need to protect your own identity, have you ever stopped to think about the security of your child’s personal information? 

Yes, it’s easy to overlook, considering their assets may only include their weekly allowance. Or their new bicycle. 

The shocking reality is that your child’s identity is at risk, and the consequences could be dire. Get ready to uncover the eye-opening facts and learn how to safeguard your child’s future.

First, did you know that identity theft affects about 1.25 million children annually? According to Javelin, this results in more than $1 billion in family losses and expenses.

If you suddenly discover that your child’s identity has been stolen, you may wonder how it happened and whether it was preventable. You may also wonder how exactly you can prevent this incident from ruining your child’s credit forever.

We’ll explain the circumstances that can result in a child’s identity being stolen. And also know the best solutions for preventing the incident from staying on your child’s credit report.

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Photo by cottonbro studio

How Did a Scammer Steal My Child’s Identity?

When it comes to stealing children’s identities, scammers have multiple avenues they can use, some of which are similar to how they target adults.

  • Data breach: Multiple organizations track sensitive personal data related to your children. If a hacker grabs this information from a third-party organization and sells it on the dark web, your child’s personal information is gone without your knowledge.
  • Hacking your devices: If you store your child’s Social Security number or college savings account information on your phone or computer, a hacker may be able to steal this information from your device.
  • Physical theft: if someone breaks into your home and steals important documents, some of these items could contain sensitive information about your kids. The thief may know how to sell this information to a hacker, leading to identity theft for the kids.
  • Assumed identity: One of the most common causes of child identity theft is close family members or friends stealing the child’s personal information. They then can sell the information for some quick cash. They may think it’s an almost harmless crime because the child doesn’t need to have a credit score. However, this type of identity theft can affect the child’s life for decades when it goes unchecked or undiscovered.
  • Online scams: If older children are using social media, online games, and live chat, they could fall victim to some of the same scams as adults. A scammer may be able to trick a child into revealing information because the child doesn’t know the danger. If your children are old enough to be online without supervision, ensure they understand the risks involved.

Taking some of the key steps for protecting your identity online can be a big help to protecting your child’s identity, too.

man siting facing laptop

Photo by Clint Patterson

Preventing Identity Theft Is a Challenge for Adults and Kids

It’s natural to wonder how someone steals a child’s identity. After all, the child isn’t active in some of the most common ways that adults see their identity stolen, like revealing personal information in an impersonation phone call or having someone steal a wallet.

Additionally, adults have the added advantage of being familiar with identity theft scams and of using common sense approaches for protection. Yet, preventing identity theft is still a significant challenge for adults.

Consequently, for children who have little understanding of how finances work and of the importance of protecting their identity, it’s extremely difficult to convince them to take precautions. Kids often must rely on their parents to help protect them. Unfortunately, this can be a bigger challenge than you might imagine.

10 common ways scammers gain access to a child’s identity online

When a scammer targets a child online, a few specific types of scams are common. These often are things that would seem fun or interesting to children, grabbing their attention. Here are 10 common situations that children may participate in on the Internet, allowing a scammer to target them.

  1. Games: A scammer may create a fake game that seems fun for kids to play. However, before they can download it, they must provide a set of personal information. If the game looks enticing enough, the child may ignore warnings from parents about sharing personal information online.

  2. Videos: Kids may see a preview of a funny video online, and they may be required to click a link to see the entire video. While this link may actually play the video, it may also cause the child to download malware or viruses that the scammer can use to access the device and your WiFi network.

  3. Apps: Children who have been using smartphones and apps for their entire lives may not think twice about downloading a potentially dangerous app. However, some apps may contain malware and viruses, exposing your devices to the scammer.

  4. Prizes: Online ads that promise you can win a prize are well-known as scams to adults. However, the first time children see an ad like this, they may be unable to resist clicking on it. The link may download malware to the device, allowing the scammer to pull data off of it or monitor your keystrokes.

  5. Scholarships: For teenagers who are searching for information on paying for college, a scammer can trick them into revealing personal information. Perhaps the scammer sets up a fake scholarship contest, requiring the teen to enter personal information to attempt to qualify.

  6. Quizzes: Some online quizzes may sound fun to try for a child, and many of them are harmless. However, if the platform hosting the quiz requires the child to enter personal information to access the answers, this could be a scammer trying to steal the information.

  7. Fake money transfer: Children who are just starting to use apps like Venmo may receive fake messages from scammers. Perhaps the Venmo scammer appears to send the child a financial transfer before reaching out and asking the child to return the money because it was sent in error. The child wants to do the right thing, sending the payment, only to discover later that the original transfer was not real, meaning the child’s money is stolen.

  8. Online chats: Some gaming platforms allow players to chat with each other while playing. Scammers may pose as a child, befriending your kid through these chats. Eventually, the scammer may obtain personal information or convince the child to click a malicious link.

  9. Using one password: If you fail to use different passwords with your various online accounts, you could be at risk because of your child’s behavior online. Perhaps you’ve given the child access to your password for a streaming service. A scammer might trick the child into revealing this password. The scammer then can try this password on other accounts you may have, potentially gaining access.

  10. Sextortion: This is a disturbing scam that targets older kids. A scammer may pose as a teenager looking to have a romantic relationship with your child. After chatting online for quite a while, the scammer may send explicit photos and ask the child to do the same. The scammer’s photos are fakes, though. Once the scammer has your child’s real photos, they then blackmail the child, demanding payments to prevent them from publicly releasing the photos online.

These scams may not work on adults because you know to watch out for them. Consequently, you as a parent may forget to tell your kids to be wary of these specific occurrences because it seems like common sense.

However, kids don’t yet have the same common sense skills that you have and the same gut instincts about potential scams. 

When you are preparing to warn your kids about online scams that could lead to ID theft, try to put yourself in your child’s position. Think about what kinds of online offers and information would be interesting enough to cause the child to put personal information at risk.

Watch the type of information you share online about your children

Additionally, if you as the parent, reveal too much information about your kids on social media, scammers may be looking to take advantage of it. 

They can trick other family members into revealing additional information about the child on other social media channels. The scammers can make it appear as though they are family friends by using the information you posted, enhancing their ability to pull off a scam.

Scammers are incredibly resourceful when it comes to tricking people into revealing information about themselves or their kids. 

You can counteract them by watching for some of the danger signs and by using common sense. If something someone asks you online about your child feels odd, trust your gut instinct and ignore it. 

Why ID Scammers Target Children

You may wonder why ID theft scammers bother to target children. After all, no bank will make a loan to a child.

However, there are multiple reasons why targeting children’s personal identity can benefit scammers

For starters, a bank may not check that the personal information the scammer uses leads back to a child, so the bank grants the loan. The scammer then steals the money. 

After all, the entire transaction takes place online, so there’s no face-to-face meeting with the bank, where an employee likely would catch the oddity of the applicant’s age. 

There are other reasons why scammers target kids.

ID theft on a child often goes unnoticed

Because children don’t need to obtain loans or need to monitor their credit scores, there’s little reason for parents to watch out for credit scams involving their children. 

If something odd is happening with the child’s credit that could indicate identity theft, no one may notice it until months or years after the fact. This gives the scammer ample time to steal and use the child’s personal information.

Having a subscription to an identity theft protection service for your entire family could help you keep a closer eye on your child’s information.

Kids don’t know how to protect themselves

Children may not be as savvy as their parents about protecting their personal information online. 

A scammer could convince a child to click a malicious link that you, as an adult, would refuse to click. Once the scammer places spyware on your computer, though, both you and your child’s personal information could be at risk.

Children have grown up using technology and are constantly exposed to devices. Such familiarity can make kids less wary about sharing information online, even older kids who probably should know better.

It’s a gateway to the parents’ information

A scammer looking to gain access to your personal information with the idea of stealing your identity may start with the child’s information. 

A scammer may engage your child who is using social media or gaming online. If the scammer can obtain some personal information from the child, the scammer may be able to use it to track down and steal your information. 

If the scammer can just obtain a few pieces of seemingly harmless information about you from the child, such as your home address, your mother’s maiden name, and your date of birth, this could lead to theft of your identity.

The Best Way to Figure Out If Someone Has Stolen Your Child’s Identity

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a child is unlikely to have a credit report before turning 18. If you suspect identity theft for the child, contact any or all of the three primary credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to see if the bureaus have a credit report for your child. 

If so, this is a probable sign of identity theft occurring for the child

The child should only have a credit report after opening a line of credit with someone, which a child rarely would do before age 18. However, if a scammer steals the child’s identity, the scammer may open lines of credit or apply for credit cards in the child’s name, triggering the formation of a credit report.

It’s important to note that the credit bureau should not just show you your child’s credit report when you ask. You will first have to prove that you are the child’s parent or legal guardian.

If you subscribe to an ID theft protection service, this service should be able to notify you whether your child has a credit report and whether it shows oddities. You then can follow up with the credit bureaus if necessary.

Man Holding his Phone

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

How Can I Fix My Child’s Credit After a Stolen Identity Case?

No parent wants to have to go through the steps of fixing a child’s credit because a scammer gained access to the child’s identity and personal information. 

If there is a silver lining, however, it’s that you have time to try to fix the child’s credit report before the child actually needs it. 

That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on the child’s identity – either by checking the child’s credit report or by subscribing to an ID theft protection service – before the child turns 18. The FTC recommends beginning to check for the existence of a credit report for your child regularly at age 16 at the latest, giving you time to try to fix any issues that may occur.

Steps to fix your child’s credit report

Many of the steps you will take to try to fix your child’s credit after a scammer steals the child’s identity are the same steps you would take to fix your own credit and to report identity theft.

  • Contact the credit bureaus: Notify the credit bureaus that fraud is likely occurring with your child’s credit report and identity. The bureau can place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report, notifying financial institutions of the issues.
  • Freeze the child’s credit report: If the child has a credit report, contact the credit bureaus to freeze the report. This will prevent a scammer from opening new accounts in your child’s name. When the child is ready to apply for credit, just contact the credit bureaus again to unfreeze the report.
  • Contact any affected financial institutions: If the child’s credit report shows fraud, contact any banks or credit card companies that are listed on the credit report to alert them to the potential fraud.
  • Report the identity theft: Reach out to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov to report the incident that led to your child’s identity theft. Contact your local law enforcement agencies, too, to make sure a police report is available, just in case you need to file a claim with your insurance company.
  • Contact government institutions: If your child’s identity theft involves a Social Security number, you may need to contact the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration directly to report the potential fraud. 

If you have an identity theft protection service subscription, the service’s representatives can walk you through other steps you need to take to try to reset your child’s identity. 

You may also need to hire a lawyer and a CPA to help you unwind the damage to your child’s credit. With an ID theft protection service subscription, you may receive help with some of the costs of restoring the child’s identity.

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Protect Your Child’s Identity Like You’d Protect Your Own

Although your child does not need a good credit history just yet, a scammer can still harm by stealing the child’s identity. 

Rather than dealing with the aftermath of having your child’s identity stolen, the best solution is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Consider subscribing to one of the best identity theft protection services. Services like Aura monitors any oddities occurring on the Internet with your child’s personal information. You then can take steps to protect the information. Aura also offers up to $5 million in identity theft insurance.

Unfortunately, scammers do not care whether they are grabbing the identity of an adult or a child. They can find a way to take advantage of anyone’s identity once they steal it. Take some common sense precautions, and you can avoid having your children become credit fraud victims before they even have their first part-time jobs.

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