Jean Chatzky: How to combat child ID theft

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With the latest health care data breaches, your kids may be more vulnerable to identity theft than ever. The reason: Most children don’t have credit cards and other financial data to steal. But they do use the health care system, meaning their Social Security numbers could be vulnerable during a breach.

One in 40 families with children under age 18 had at least 1 child whose personal information was compromised, according to a 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research.

Michael Bruemmer, vice president of the data breach resolution group at Experian credit reporting bureau, expects that number to increase as health insurer breaches continue. “25% to 30% of health insurers’ populations are under the age of 18,” Bruemmer says.

Thieves know that fraudulent activity using children’s Social Security and health insurance numbers may not be detected for years.

“Sometime parents don’t realize there’s a problem until a child is applying for college loans or a 1st credit card,” Bruemmer says. “By then they may have years of fraudulent credit problems to clean up.”

Here’s what you can do to make sure that doesn’t happen to your child.

Check with the credit reporting agencies. If you find your child doesn’t have a credit report at any of the 3 major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — that’s good news. “Because kids don’t have credit they shouldn’t have credit reports. You want to worry when they do,” Bruemmer says.

If your child does have a credit report, immediately contact the bureaus (not 1, but all 3) to tell them you suspect fraud. You may also want to ask about special services the bureaus provide to monitor children’s Social Security numbers. If your child’s number has been compromised, you may want to file for a new one with your local Social Security office.

There are some cases when a young person, especially teens, may have a legitimate credit report, Bruemmer says. When that’s the case, make sure to check it regularly for suspicious activity.

Pay attention to junk mail. Look out for preapproved credit applications, bills, bank statements or collection letters sent to your child. All of those can indicate that someone has set up fraudulent accounts in his or her name.

Don’t give out your child’s Social Security number. Until recently, it wasn’t uncommon for local schools, community organizations and even Little League to ask for your child’s Social Security number in their registration or application forms. While sometimes disclosing a child’s number is unavoidable, most of the time it isn’t necessary. Always ask why the person requesting the number needs it and don’t be afraid to refuse to provide it.

Watch your child’s social media. If your teen has a Facebook or other social media account, be sure there are no personal identifying details such as dates of birth (I know, they want all their friends to wish them a happy birthday, but if you point out the downside, they may relent), address, dog’s name, mother’s maiden name, etc., that thieves can use to help steal your child’s identity.