Child identity theft may go undetected for years, and has harmful consequences for victims, but parents can take steps to help prevent the crime, experts say.
Guardians should look for solicitations or calls from lenders or telemarketers — children wouldn't be on their lists unless someone has established credit in their name. Being prudent about passing out a child's personal information is also a good idea, but parents need not fear every transaction with the pediatrician or elementary school.
"Parents shouldn't become paranoid; they should be vigilant," says Amy Gergely, spokeswoman for Intersections Inc., a Chantilly, Va.-based credit monitoring and protection company.
If parents have a reason to believe their child may have been the victim of identity theft, they may want to see if their child has a credit report.
"The answer should be there is no report," said Linda Foley, co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. "If you hear the answer 'we'd be happy to send you the report,' you have a problem."
The three main credit bureaus are: Equifax, toll-free telephone number (800) 525-6285; Experian, (888) 397-3742; and Trans Union, (800) 680-7289.
If identity theft has occurred, parents should file a report with the local police and keep a copy of the report in case it is needed later. If a child's Social Security number is being used fraudulently, parents should contact the Social Security Administration at: (800) 269-0271 or email@example.com.
Parents can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Clearinghouse at 877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Getting photo identification or a passport for a child could help establish the youngster's identity if it is ever questioned, Gergely said.
"It's the same concept as fingerprinting your child. You may never need it but parents are thankful they have it," she said.
Victims of identity theft can also seek assistance at the Identity Theft Resource Center at www.idtheftcenter.org.