Your children may not have bank accounts, credit cards or bills in their name, but they're still ideal targets for identity thieves. Because few parents expect child identity theft, criminals can use a child's personal information for years before they're detected. In the worst cases, it's not discovered until children begin making financial decisions as adults and find their credit in shambles.
The good news is there are things you can do to protect your kids' identity:
* Guard your children's Social Security numbers closely. Adults have bank account information, credit card numbers and other "grown-up" information that's vulnerable to thieves. Most kids don't, but they do have Social Security numbers, which is the No. 1 thing identity thieves will be looking for. Never carry your children's Social Security cards with you, and only give out their numbers when absolutely necessary.
* Consider an identity protection service for the whole family. An identity protection service that will notify you if an account is opened in your child's name or other common signs of identity theft can help you act swiftly to prevent damage to your child's credit. Reviewing your child's credit report on a regular basis can also help you determine if someone has been using your child's information to open accounts or apply for credit.
* Keep an eye out for common signs of identity theft. If a bill or credit card arrives in your child's name, it's possible someone is using your child's identity to obtain it. Other red flags include receiving unfamiliar tax information in your child's name, notices that your child's Social Security information has been used to gain employment or open an account, or denial when your child applies for his first account or job.
* Monitor your child's online habits. Teach your children to never share personal information over email or on social networking sites.
* Shred your children's sensitive documents too. Any mail or other documents containing sensitive information should be shredded before being taken out with the garbage.
By taking steps now to prevent your children's identity from being compromised, you can help them start adulthood with a clean financial record.