09/04/2014 12:49 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

How to Keep Your Child's Identity Safe

By Jenna Lee, Social Media Manager at Credit Karma

Get ready for some scary numbers. According to a 2012 study by the Identity Theft Assistance Center, one in 40 U.S. households with children younger than 18 experienced child identity theft at some point during the child's lifetime. Although horrifying, this is unfortunately not surprising, as 56 percent of stolen Social Security numbers are taken from children.

While a slew of data breaches have recently impacted adults, kids are actually targeted roughly 35 times more often than adults and have become the fastest growing population of identity theft victims. More than ever, it's becoming increasingly important for you to proactively take steps to protect your loved ones before fraud damages their identity and affects their ability to get loans, scholarships or jobs in the future. Here's how you can do so and what to do if you think your child's identity may have already been stolen.

How Thieves Steal Children's Identities

First off, it's important to understand why identity thieves choose to target children. The main motive typically boils down to the simple matter of ease: Because credit issuers don't always verify the age of the applicant, once thieves get ahold of a child's Social Security number, it can be relatively easy to commit fraud. They simply combine the child's personal information with a different date of birth to fabricate a "synthetic identity," which is difficult to detect and can easily be used to get a job, government benefits, medical care, loans or utilities.

How to Know if Your Child is a Victim of Identity Theft

There are usually some telltale warning signs that your child's identity has been stolen. While this list is by no means exhaustive, keep an eye out for the following red flags:

  • Your child begins to receive pre-approved credit cards, bills, collection calls or financial offers normally sent to adults.
  • You try to open a financial account for him but he already has one, or your child is denied because of his "poor credit history."
  • A credit report already exists in his name. Generally, only public records or applications for credit trigger the compilation of a consumer credit file.
  • You get a notice from the IRS saying that the child failed to pay his income taxes, or a notification that the child's Social Security number was used on someone's tax return.
  • You or your child is turned down for government benefits because they're being paid to another account using your child's Social Security number.

How to Protect Your Child

A huge part of protecting your child's identity comes down to how well you guard his personal information. The FTC recommends shredding documents you don't need to keep and finding a safe location for the remaining paper records that contain your child's personal information. In particular, keep your child's Social Security card securely locked away-- never carry it around with you unless you have a good reason for doing so.

In the same vein, be wary about giving out your child's personal information to others. If someone asks you for it, ask why they need it and verify that the records will be kept in a secure location. Whenever possible, avoid sharing your child's birth certificate or Social Security number unless absolutely necessary-- it never hurts to ask whether you can provide an alternative means of identification instead.

It's also vital to teach your child the importance of protecting his own information. In addition to encouraging him to never post personal details on the Internet, advise him to use complicated passwords and avoid visiting untrustworthy sites. After he turns 18, he'll be able to use Credit Karma to monitor his financial accounts and credit regularly, which could help him catch and deal with identity theft quickly, if necessary.

What to Do if Your Child's Identity Has Been Stolen

According to TransUnion, most cases of identity theft can be resolved if they are caught early. Therefore, the best thing you can do if your child's identity has been stolen is to act quickly. Follow these steps as soon as you can:

  • Contact each of the three main credit bureaus and ask them to remove all accounts, account inquiries and collection notices associated with your child's name and Social Security number.
  • Contact each business where your child's information was misused and ask them to close the fraudulent account and flag it to show it resulted from identity theft.
  • Place a fraud alert on your child's credit report. This will tell lenders and creditors to contact you before extending a credit line or loan in your child's name.
  • File a report with the FTC, which will help the government track and respond to identity thievery.

Bottom Line

Although identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, it is a crime that you can take steps to prevent. Instead of simply hoping it doesn't happen to your children, take proactive measures today to ensure that they start off adulthood with a clean credit history. Good luck!

This content is for entertainment and information purposes only. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors themselves, and not necessarily Credit Karma, its affiliates, or its business partners. Efforts have been made to present information that is up to date and accurate at the time of its initial publication. However, neither the author nor Credit Karma make any guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the information provided.

About the Author: Jenna Lee is Credit Karma's Social Media Manager. When she's not working, you can probably find her trying out a new dessert recipe or learning/perfecting any musical instrument she can get her hands on. Say "hi" @leejennaa!