A student from North Texas contacted our NBC 5 and Telemundo 39 Responde teams after learning of thousands of dollars in debt incurred in his name.
Find out what parents can do now to help protect their children’s financial future.
‘THIS IS REALLY STRESSFUL FOR ME‘
Shortly after turning 18, Josue Guevara said he went to his bank to apply for a credit card for the first time. It was there that he learned that his credit was already in bad shape.
“Surprising to me. I ran out of words,” Guevara said.
Guevara said he discovered thousands of dollars in debt, accumulated in his name, from when he was just a baby.
“They even said I owed $40,000, which is important to me because the highest amount I’ve had in my hands is $100, not $40,000,” Guevara said.
The student has filed a police report and is struggling to unravel years of debt that he says doesn’t belong to him. Guevara worries that it will be difficult to obtain student loans to continue her studies once her scholarships run out.
“I really want to solve this problem because it’s really stressful for me,” Guevara said.
IDENTITIES OF TARGETED CHILDREN
“Stories of identity theft from children are absolutely heartbreaking because these are young people trying to get started,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Velasquez explained that children’s identities are an attractive target for thieves. With a few data points including a Social Security number, full name and date of birth, Velasquez said a thief can make a few changes to start spending.
“There is no file for this child in the credit reporting agencies, one will then be created with this new date of birth, the social security number and the thief is building this credit file for this minor”, Velasquez said. “A lot of times they’ll tap into it and take advantage of it until they’ve maxed out the lines of credit, and then they’ll walk away.”
While adults watching bank statements, tax returns, and credit reports can spot a problem early, a child’s identity theft can go undetected for years.
A Javelin Strategy & Research study published in 2021 estimates that child identity fraud affects one in 50 children each year. The same study indicates that children’s personal information is increasingly being targeted by criminals and people the child may know.
Javelin’s study indicates that most, 73%, of child victims of identification know their abusers.
STEPS PARENTS CAN TAKE
Parents can take steps to make their children a harder target for identity theft.
First, find out if your child has a credit report with all three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
“You can, as a parent or legal guardian, check your child’s credit report or request one for free to make sure nothing is wrong. If there’s no credit report on file with Experian, that’s a good thing,” says Rod Griffin, Director of Public Education and Advocacy at Experian.
Parents should complete documentation to prove they are entitled to this information. If the child is under 16, parents can also freeze their child’s credit report with each of the three credit bureaus free of charge.
Here are links to instructions for freezing a minor’s credit report at Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.
Parents must fill out an application for the freeze and send it, along with a copy of their child’s birth certificate and social security card, by mail.
“I understand that some parents are wary of sending paper documents in the mail, and that’s a valid fear, but I’m more concerned that the child’s credentials are already in the wild. , which they most likely are, and trying to reduce that risk surfaced by freezing credit,” Velasquez said.
There are other safeguards that parents can take. The Federal Trade Commission says parents should question any form or document asking for personal information about their child. Ask if it’s really necessary to share your child’s social security number on a standard form. If so, ask how this information will be protected and whether it is possible to use a different ID or just the last four digits of the child’s SSN.
Studies show that people you know can pose a risk, so don’t share too much information about your child on social media. Also watch what your kids are sharing.
Velasquez said parents should act quickly if they receive collection letters, bills, credit card offers or other personal financial correspondence on behalf of their child. Don’t assume this is a clerical error.
“It could just be a mistake, but you won’t know until you follow up. The sooner you catch these issues, the easier it is to fix them,” Velasquez said.
If you’re being denied government benefits because someone is already using your child’s social security number, that’s a red flag. Parents should also take action if someone calls about an overdue bill on their child’s behalf, but it’s not an account you opened for the child.
If you learn your child has been the victim of identity theft, the FTC says you should report fraudulent accounts. Contact each company’s anti-fraud department to close the account. Ask for written confirmation that your child is not responsible for the fees.
Contact all three credit bureaus to report that someone has used your child’s information. Request that fraudulent accounts be removed from your child’s credit report.
The Identity Theft Resource Center offers a helpline to guide consumers through the steps they can take.
The Federal Trade Commission also has information on identifying and preventing child identity theft here.
If you are a victim of identity theft, you can report it here.
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