Identity theft is a real threat - and minors aren't immune. Fraudsters gain access to a child's personal information (such as Social Security number) and open up accounts or apply for governmental benefits in their name, pretending all along to be the child at an older age. To ensure your child won't enter adulthood with an already-tainted credit report, do a little digging with the three main credit reporting agencies.
How to Check
All three credit reporting agencies - Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax - have procedures allowing parents to check for a minor's credit report. All three require proof of guardianship before any information will be released, such as the child's birth certificate and/or your identification.
- Experian allows parents to start the process of checking a credit report online, but requires additional documentation proving guardianship before releasing any information.
- TransUnion requires an explanation of why the research is needed (saying you suspect fraud is sufficient) before they will check for an existing credit report. If one is found, they may request additional information before releasing the report to you.
- Equifax requires identifying information for both the parent and the minor before they will check for the existence of a credit report.
While you may be able to initiate a request online, the company may require a mailed request with documentation for minors ages 13 and younger.
What You May Learn
Ideally, the agencies will find no credit report on file for your child, which means there is no known fraudulent activity, but if a report indeed exists, each agency can place a fraud alert on the child's report. However, they will not file any criminal charges on your behalf - that will be your responsibility. Note that children may have a legitimate credit report if you put them as authorized users on your credit card.
As a parent, you should look for the same hints of identity theft for your children as you do for yourself. For example, your minor child receiving offers of credit in the mail can be a red flag, as can calls from creditors claiming your child owes money. If you try to open an account for your child (such as a savings account) and the financial institution denies an account based on credit history, you can be fairly sure that unless the financial institution is in error, someone else is using your child's information fraudulently. At this point, you should contact the credit reporting agencies in addition to law enforcement. You can do these things on your child's behalf until they reach the age of adulthood or become emancipated.
Most often, identity theft of children is conducted by people with ready access to their information. For this reason, parents should safeguard their children's personal information as closely as they do their own from visiting relatives or friends.
The Federal Trade Commission suggest all parents and guardians check for the existence of a credit report minors when the child reaches their 16th birthday, even if there is no hint of fraud yet. This is because at 16, there is still enough time to clean up any mess before the child starts applying for credit.
Your Child's Advocate
Entering into adulthood with an existing, fraudulent credit record can make things so much harder for your child. Applying for credit, renting an apartment, or even getting car insurance can be harder - if not downright impossible - in this instance. Instead, be your child's advocate and ensure they head into adulthood with a clean slate instead of carrying the burden of identity theft with them.