Child identity theft can be a nightmare for parents. That's why it's important to consider freezing your child's credit at birth.
An estimated 1.6 million children had their information exposed in a data breach according to a 2021 report by Javelin Strategy & Research and 1.25 million children had their information used for fraud, but the company thinks that's a low number.
"The numbers are much higher because that doesn't take into account a stepparent or neighbor who steals the child's identity," said Tracy Kitten, Director of Fraud and Security at Javelin.
It also usually takes years for you to find out your child's identity has been used for fraud. Sometimes people only find out when their children are in their late teens and applying for jobs or college scholarships.
Even when families find out, it takes one-and-a-half times longer to fix compared to resolving adult identity theft, and it's expensive to deal with.
"Families on average spend $372 out of pocket to resolve the issue," said Kitten. "We are looking at close to $1,300 per incident."
That's why it's important to freeze your child's credit. You can do it for free by visiting each of the three credit bureaus. You can find their detailed how-to pages here: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.
The Identity Theft Resource Center says freezing your child's credit can prevent new accounts from being opened in your child's name.
If you're looking for other ways to protect your child's identity, there are paid identity protection services you can subscribe to.
"They'll look for suspicious activity that hides the child's credit or uses their information to open a loan," said Kitten. "But they'll also look at the dark web to see if personally identifiable information linked to that child is for sale, such as the date of birth or a social security number. They'll also monitor social media."
Keeping a child's personal information safe is the best way to protect them, because the Javelin survey found more than 70% of child ID fraud cases are perpetrated by someone who knows the child directly.
Kitten says it's also important to talk to your children about the information they share online, because they could help someone steal their identity without realizing it. Parents should be careful with sharing too much information online about their children, which could be used to steal their identity.