Protecting Our Youth's Identity
September 27, 2017
Identity theft is a serious crime -- and it's one that doesn't just affect adults. Even though credit scores and lines of credit are generally considered to be an "adult" thing, there are many people that can have their identity stolen even before they hit the age of 18. In fact, children are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to identity theft, and parents need to educate themselves on the risks.
The Consequences of Identity TheftA credit report isn't "cleared" when someone turns 18. In fact, credit reports are designed not to take into consideration the age of an individual, as it isn't designed to discriminate against people for age, gender, race, or other protected classes. It is the creditor's responsibility to ensure that they are not entering into contracts with children below a certain age -- and even then, children can have some types of financial accounts with the approval of their parents. In short, someone being under the age of 18 does not protect their credit score.
When a child has their identity stolen, the consequences are the same as an adult. They may have a low credit score starting out. They may not be able to open a bank account. They may even become liable for collections unless they can prove that those collection accounts were not opened by them. Legal and financial consequences can occur due to identity theft, and it can be difficult to sort these issues out if the crime occurred a long time ago.
Risk Factors Unique to Minors
- Being forthcoming with information. Minors are naturally less conservative with their personally identifiable information because they don't understand the gravity of the consequences involved.
- Using new and less secure technologies. Apps, games, websites, and other childhood and teenage pastimes are now proliferating, many of which take credit card information but might not be adhering to security standards.
- Self-managing financial accounts. Children today can manage financial accounts such as Venmo and PayPal legally, which can land them in debt in the event that they bounce payments or have items refunded.
- Not noticing that their credit has been impacted. A child isn't likely to check their own credit report -- and often collections accounts written to a child will be assumed to be "spam" and simply thrown away.
- Apathy. Many families may assume that because a minor can't enter into contracts, issues with their accounts will simply go away. But this isn't true; they will often linger into adulthood.
Dealing with Identity Theft as a MinorForemost, minors need to be educated on the risks associated with giving out their personal information. When minors are being introduced to the Internet, they should be aware of the potential for fraud and even for physical danger. Their Internet use should be monitored when they are younger to make sure that they understand what personal information is and that they shouldn't share it. They should also be educated on the use of screen names and the use of fake information to obscure their identities.
When minors have their identity stolen, it is possible for them to request a new social security number. Though this can be a complicated process, it is worthwhile if it is not known how much of the minor's information may have been taken or if the identity theft has been severe. This allows the minor to move forward into adulthood in a safer way.
Understanding the Family Risk FactorsFinally, there is one last element that can be unpleasant to consider. In general, when a youth's identity is stolen, it's usually not an individual online. Most identity theft upon youths actually occurs from family members. A mother or father may open up a credit line in their child's name thinking that it will build their credit, but their spending may spiral out of control. A financially desperate uncle or aunt may take out a loan in a child's name intending to pay it back... but may never be able to. In these situations, it's important to understand two things. Firstly, even if a family member does it, it's still considered fraud. Second, if it is never reported to the police, the child may never have any agency or recourse.
Children may feel as though they cannot turn in family members and -- without a police report -- may never be able to recover their credit even as adults. Thus, parents should be concerned not only about sharing information with friends and the Internet, but also sharing information with other family members.
Protecting youths from identity theft is about being proactive and educating them about the risks early on. But in a world in which even adults fall prey to identity theft quite frequently, it's not always possible to avoid. Keeping an eye on a child's credit report can be a good way to identify issues early on and head off problems quickly, as can freezing their credit entirely to make sure that nothing does occur even if their identity is stolen.