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Special section Child identity theft

Guard your child's information and be wary of credit offers.

7 steps to protect your child from identity theft

Child identity theft is a relatively new crime, but reports of it are increasing.

Of the identity theft complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2005, 5 percent involved those younger than the age of 18.

A common red flag that something is amiss is unexpected mail such as collection letters or letters regarding financial accounts. Watch for credit reports in your child's name even though the child has never applied for credit. If you have any reason to be suspicious, check it out.

Protecting your child
If you haven't had any problems yet, these seven steps will help protect your child from becoming a victim.
7 steps to protect identity
1. Disclose personal information carefully.
2. Shred any paper with your SSN.
3. Require a photo ID and password.
4. Be wary of credit card offers in the mail.
5. Check with the credit agencies to see if credit reports exist.
6. Check for an earnings report from the Social Security Administration.
7. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

1. Only disclose personal information if you know how it will be used. Avoid giving personal information out on the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you know exactly who you are dealing with, especially when responding to sales promotions. Avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. Memorize the number and keep the card in a safe place.

Parents need to keep an eye on their children while their children are on the Internet. The rising popularity of blogs and social networking sites has caused some of these Web sites to become playgrounds for identity thieves and predators.

Don't let your son or daughter post his or her phone number, address or school name. Tell your children not to let their friends post their personal information either.

2. Shred any paper that contains a Social Security number.

3. Ask your bank or credit union to require a photo ID and password for all transactions for your, or your child's, accounts.

4. Be wary of credit card offers in the mail. Parents who have opened credit in their child's name, as a joint account holder, don't need to be too alarmed.

"When parents do that, they open a credit history for that child and as a result they can get preapproved credit offers," says Rod Griffin, manager of public education at Experian. He says that some credit card providers have their own lists and could have gotten the child's name from a banking institution if the child has a checking or savings account with his or her parents.

However, credit experts also recommend not taking any chances. If you suspect a problem, contact the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

"I would say if you get something in the mail, don't think it's a mistake and say, 'Aw this is my child's name. This is cute.' Act on it to limit the situation," says Diane Terry, director of the Fraud Victim Assistance Department at TransUnion. "Understand that your child could be a victim, and it's probably not a mistake."

One way to opt out of prescreened offers of credit is to call a toll-free number: (888) 5OPT-OUT or (888) 567-8688.

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