Millions Of Kids' Identities Were Stolen Last Year – Here's How To Protect Your Family

Identity theft is becoming more of a threat to people in the Paw Patrol viewing audience. Sadly, even kids can be targeted for credit fraud. So knowing how to freeze your child's credit is crucial, because you don't want that sensitive information available to criminals. Thankfully, it's also pretty easy to keep your kid's credit secure until adulthood.

First, though, it's important to understand just how big the threat of identity theft to children has become. In fact, over 1 million minors were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017 alone, the majority of whom were 7 years old or younger, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Why does anyone target kids? Adults are probably more in tune with current credit standing. "When you commit fraud on an adult, that adult is busy building their life ― buying a house, getting a car. Credit checks are more likely to occur and they’re more likely to discover the fraud," said Jerry Linebaugh, founder of JLine Financial in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in HuffPost. "But in the case of a 2-year-old, they’re not going to check their credit for at least a dozen years." Potentially, criminals can get away with fraudulent account or identity use for years when they target children. It makes sense to start protecting your kid's identity and credit future now, even if their ability to use a credit card (or even walk) is still far off.

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Freezing your kid's credit account is one way to help protect them from fraud. In general, a credit freeze blocks open access to a credit file, making fraudulent credit use unlikely, as explained in Forbes. And it's easier than ever now. Plus, credit freezes for children are now free for kids under the age of 16, thanks to a law that went into effect on September 21, 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information. It's a strong form of credit protection that's now more accessible and affordable than ever, and it won't affect your kid's future credit score.

First, check to see whether your child has an existing credit report, which is most often a sign of fraud, as noted in HuffPost. Each of the three major credit bureaus has a way to inquire about your kid's credit history. Experian has an online platform for inquiries into the credit histories of minors. Meanwhile, there's a minor child information address at Equifax, and a child identity theft inquiry at TransUnion. Once you're sure your child has not been a victim of identity theft already, it's time to move on.

Next, to actually freeze your child's credit, contact one of the three major credit bureaus again. To work with Equifax, you'll need to download and mail in the Minor Freeze Request form. There's a similar minor freeze form for Experian, as well as protected consumer freeze instructions at TransUnion. Basically, you'll simply mail in the request for a freeze on your kid's behalf at any of these organizations.

Please note that the credit freezes alone don't include credit monitoring for your child, and the freezes won't undo any credit fraud that's already taken place. Also, it is still possible for a fraudster to open up a fake account in your kid's name even with the credit freeze, although this is not common, as noted in Forbes. For the most part, though, a timely credit freeze now can prevent a lot of headache for you and your kid later on. For specific questions about credit freezes for minors, contact one of the credit bureaus or your financial counselor for advice.