Children are almost the perfect victims for identity thieves: They're unlikely to monitor credit, they don't keep track of a bank account and they probably won't do either of those things for years. The only potential protection comes from vigilant family members-but sometimes those family members are the very ones who abuse children's identities.
In many cases, when a family member or friend steals a child's identity, the crime goes unreported. However, statistics show that in 27 percent of reported instances of child identity theft, friends and family are responsible. Parents, relatives or friends of the family might use a child's identity to get a mortgage, apply for credit cards, employment, government benefits and more.
Protecting a child's identity from those whom you trust the most can feel particularly difficult, but taking preventive steps could make a world of difference. While there's no need to treat friends and family differently, these tips can lessen the risk of your child's ID being stolen:
* Guard your child's Social Security number. Don't give it out without first asking how it will be used, how it will be protected, and whether providing only the last four digits is an alternative option.
* Secure documents. Paper records should be filed in a secure location-an in-home safe is a good option-so that visitors to your home can't easily get access to them. Electronic records should be equally well protected; make sure the sites where the documents are hosted are secure, and use strong, safe passwords.
* Think critically. Consider whether there's anyone in a child's life who might need a quick and easy way to turn over a new leaf. Those who are struggling financially, or who have been in trouble with the law, might be desperate enough to misuse a child's identity.
The consequences of identity theft can last for years, and children affected by it will have a much more difficult time establishing credit. Protection in the present will give them a better shot at a sound financial future.