Child Identity Theft

A child's Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live. Check for a credit report to see if your child’s information is being misused. Take immediate action if it is.

Many school forms require personal and, sometimes, sensitive information. Find out how your child’s information is collected, used, stored, and thrown away. Your child’s personal information is protected by law. Asking schools and other organizations to safeguard your child’s information can help minimize your child’s risk of identity theft.

Warning Signs

Several signs can tip you off to the fact that someone is misusing your child’s personal information and committing fraud. For example, you or your child might:

  • be turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using your child’s Social Security number
  • get a notice from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return
  • get collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t receive

Check for a Credit Report

If you think your child’s information is at risk, check whether your child has a credit report.

  1. Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
    1. Ask for a manual search of the child’s file.
      The companies will check for files relating to the child’s name and Social Security number, and for files related only to the child’s Social Security number.
      The credit reporting companies may require copies of:
      • the child’s birth certificate listing parents
      • the child’s Social Security card
      • the parent or guardian’s government-issued identification card, like a driver’s license or military identification, or copies of documents proving the adult is the child’s legal guardian
      • proof of address, like a utility bill, or credit card or insurance statement
  2. Update your files.
    1. Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
    2. Keep copies of letters in your files.

Repair the Damage

Contact each Credit Reporting Company

If your child’s credit report shows the child’s information is being misused, call each credit reporting company. Ask each company to remove all accounts, account inquiries, and collection notices from any file associated with your child’s name and Social Security number.

Contact every business where your child’s information was misused. Ask each business to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.

Place a Fraud Alert

Ask each company to put a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. Contact one company; that company will contact the other two.

File a Fraud Report

File a report with the FTC online or call 877-438-4338. If the fraud relates to medical services or taxes, you might need to file a police report, too.

How to Help a Child Victim of Identity Theft

  1. Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
    1. Send a letter asking the companies to remove all accounts, inquires and collection notices associated with the child’s name or personal information.
    2. Explain that the child is a minor and include a copy of the Uniform Minor’s Status Declaration [PDF].
  2. Place a fraud alert.
  3. Learn about your rights.
    1. The credit reporting company will explain that you can get a free credit report, and other rights you have.
  4. Consider requesting a credit freeze.
    1. The credit reporting companies may ask for proof of the child’s and parent’s identity.
  5. Order the child’s credit reports.
    1. Review the credit reports.
  6. Contact businesses where the child’s information was misused.
  7. Create an Identity Theft Report.
  8. Learn more about repairing identity theft.
  • Update your files.
    1. Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
    2. Keep copies of letters in your files.

Prevention = Protection

You can take steps to protect your child’s identity from misuse:

Find a safe location for all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information

Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.

Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.

Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, there’s an adult in your household who might want to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a security breach.

Limiting the Risks of Child Identity Theft

Laws safeguard your child and your family's personal information. For example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, protects the privacy of student records. It also gives parents of school-age kids the right to opt-out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.

If you're a parent with a child who's enrolled in school:

Find Out Who Has Access to Your Child’s Personal Information

Verify that the records are kept in a secure location.

Pay Attention to Forms From School

Forms that ask for personal information may come home with your child, or you may get them through the mail or by email. Look for terms like "personally identifiable information," "directory information," and "opt-out." Find out how your child’s information will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.

Read the Notices From Your Child’s School

Your school will send home an annual notice that explain explains your rights under FERPA, including your right to:

  • inspect and review your child's education records;
  • approve the disclosure of personal information in your child’s records; and
  • ask to correct errors in the records.

Ask Your Child’s School About its Directory Information Policy

Student directory information can include your child's name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. If you want to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties, it’s best to put your request in writing and keep a copy for your files. If you don't opt-out, directory information may be available to the people in your child's class and school, and to the general public.

Ask For a Copy of Your School’s Policy on Surveys

The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment gives you the right to see surveys and instructional materials before they are distributed to students.

Consider Other Programs That Take Place at the School

Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren't formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have web sites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations to find out if — and how — your child's information will be used and shared.

Take Action if Your Child’s School Experiences a Data Breach

Your child’s school or the school district may notify you of a data breach. If not, and you believe your child's information has been compromised, contact the school to learn more. Talk with teachers, staff, or administrators about the incident and their practices. Keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board, if necessary.

File a Complaint

You may file a written complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Contact the Family Policy Compliance Office, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20202-5920, and keep a copy for your records. Visit the Deparment's website to learn more about FERPA.

Additional Rights

You may have additional rights under state law: contact your local consumer protection agency or your state attorney general for details.

When Your Child Turns 16

It’s a good idea to check whether your child has a credit report close to the child’s 16th birthday. If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment.

Contact Information for the 3 Credit Reporting Companies