Parents in 22 states have the right to freeze their children’s credit to prevent identity theft. But that doesn’t mean credit bureaus make it easy. And in other states, protecting your child can be a real fight:
Limits on credit freezes are a problem, because freezes are the most effective way to prevent a child’s Social Security number from being used to open new credit accounts.
Otherwise, a criminal who snatches your child’s Social Security can operate for years with impunity. Your family likely won’t know an identity has been compromised until your child tries to open a bank account and gets turned down because of bad checks she didn’t write, or applies for a credit card only to be rejected for a long history of not paying bills that weren’t hers in the first place.
You may get tipped off to problems if your child starts receiving credit card solicitations or collections calls. Or you may have no clue at all that her identity’s been stolen.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
You can check your own credit reports for fraud online. You can’t do that with a minor child, since children aren’t supposed to have credit reports. And if they do — because thieves have opened accounts in their names or using their Social Security numbers — you likely wouldn’t be able to answer the security questions based on those accounts that would give you access to their files.
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Given the risks involved, many states have passed laws requiring bureaus to freeze a child’s credit at a parent’s request. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, those states include Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Most of those state laws require credit bureaus to create a credit file if none exists, but 3 — Illinois, Montana and Nebraska — do not, says Heather Morton, the organization’s program principal for fiscal affairs.
Getting a freeze for a minor, even in the states that authorize it, isn’t exactly easy. Parents have to write a letter requesting a freeze and include copies of their own driver’s licenses or other identification along with copies of the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card. (Each bureau has slightly different requirements, which are detailed on their sites.)
But the differing policies and state laws have led to consumer confusion and even uncertainty among identity theft experts about whether parents should request an investigation into their child’s credit history if there’s no evidence of a problem.
“We’re still a little leery of advising parents to do an inquiry,” since that alone may create a credit file, says Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “As soon as you start creating activity where none should exist, you could end up creating vulnerability.”