smart spending

9 ways to combat child identity theft

Safeguard your home
Safeguard your home © Aaron Amat/Shutterstock.com

Lock up your child's Social Security number, birth certificate, passport and other personal information. Most people are surprised to learn that identity theft is typically "a family affair," says Weisman. Family, or anyone else with access to your home, can nab these details by simply milling around the house.

Because identity thieves are often family members, it can feel "like a horror story where the call is coming from inside the house," says Joel Winston, a New York-based attorney specializing in privacy law. Relatives, housekeepers and caregivers often use a child's personal details to open new credit cards or other accounts. "Child identity thieves who know their victims rationalize that the use of credit is just temporary and will be paid back without the child ever knowing," says Winston. "Other thieves feel that if the money is being used to take care of the child, then it's justified to use the child's credit."

The financial consequences can be severe, as thieves can "churn and burn" through the child's credit history quickly, says Winston. "Whereas an adult with existing credit accounts might be flagged by an avalanche of new accounts, a thief can abuse a child's pristine credit report for five to 15 days before new accounts start registering and credit limits are flagged."

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