When Should You Check Your Child’s Credit Reports?

PHOTO: A surprising number of households had children under age 18 who were victims of identity fraud.

Parents have plenty of reasons to worry about how their kids will handle money and credit. How can you get them to save? Will they get a good job when they are on their own? Will they pay their bills on time? How much debt will they rack up if they go to college?

Now add one more thing to the list: child identity theft.

One in 40 households with children under age 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised by identity fraud, according to the 2012 Child Identity Fraud Survey, conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by ITAC.

Some of those victims discover that credit accounts have been opened in their names, even though they were young children at the time. While it’s never easy to learn your child’s identity has been compromised, the sooner you discover the problem, the better. Once you know, you’ll hopefully be able to stop the perpetrator from continuing to misuse your child's information.

Children should not have credit reports. Therefore, a credit report in the name of a child who has never applied for or been granted credit is likely a sign that something is amiss. Parents who suspect a problem may want to contact the credit reporting agencies to find out if a report exists on their child.

When to Check Credit

The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking to find out whether your child has a credit report around his or her 16th birthday. “If there is one — and it has errors due to fraud or misuse — you will have time to correct it before the child applies for a job, a loan for tuition or a car, or needs to rent an apartment,” advises the FTC’s website.

“I would say that parents should check every six to 12 months, but especially during the years before they turn 18,” says Victor Searcy, director of fraud operations for Identity Theft 911, an identity theft resolution service. “That way if something does exist, they have time to resolve (it) before the child needs to use their credit. This is for situations where there is no reason for them to be concerned. If they have reason to believe their child’s information is compromised, I would do it more frequently.”

What are some reasons to be concerned?

  • Debt collectors contact the child attempting to collect a debt.
  • A child who starts driving is denied a license because one has already been issued in his or her name.
  • A parent tries to open a bank account for their child, but is told they can’t due to a negative history with bureaus that report checking and savings account information.
  • Numerous pre-approved credit offers arrive in the child’s name. (Don’t sweat occasional offers; that probably just means they are on a mailing list.)
  • Bills for utilities or credit cards arrive with the child’s name on them.
Keep in mind that some young people may have credit histories before they reach the age of 18. “Children may have a credit report because they are listed as authorized users or joint account holders on an adult’s account,” says Searcy. But if the minor child or their parent obtains a copy of their credit report and discovers accounts that they don’t recognize, it’s a big red flag. Unfortunately, this crime is sometimes committed by family members, complicating things even further for the victim.

How to Get a Child’s Credit Report

If you need to request one of these reports for a child under 13, you can contact each of the credit reporting agencies below. If you request a report in writing you will likely need to provide the following information about the child:

  • Legal name
  • Address
  • Birth date
  • A copy of the child's birth certificate
  • A copy of the child's Social Security card
You’ll also need to provide your identification as parent or legal guardian:
  • A copy of your driver's license or other government-issued identity card with your current address
  • A copy of a current utility bill with the same address
If necessary, you may also have to provide proof of legal custody of the child. The credit reporting agency will notify you if this is required.

Send your written request to all three credit reporting agencies:

Equifax

P.O. Box 105139

Atlanta, GA 30348-5139

Experian

P.O. Box 9554

Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion

P.O. Box 1000

Chester, PA 19022

Once your child has begun to establish credit, encourage them to check their credit reports once a year for free, and to monitor their credit scores, which they can do for free at Credit.com.

This article originally appeared in Credit.com.

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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