What if you found out your nine-year-old son was in foreclosure on a home in a neighboring state? Or that your six-year-old daughter was in collection for a huge utility bill in another county? Imagine learning that information when they are college-age and are applying for student loans!

Unfortunately, identity theft isn’t just something adults experience. A recent FTC news release cited one study estimating that more than 140,000 instances of child identity fraud are perpetrated every year. It also reported that in a survey of children enrolled in an identity protection service, 10 percent had loans, credit and utility accounts tied to their Social Security Numbers.

Children are easy bait since child ID theft may go undetected for years. Most parents apply for a Social Security Number after a new baby is born, and a Social Security Number is all that’s required to open most credit accounts. It could be years until a child applies for credit in his/her own name – years that allow identity theft to go undetected. And that could create serious consequences.

So how do you know if your child is being targeted? Here are five possible indicators:

  • Social Security: Is your child receiving pre-approved credit card offers or bills in his name?
  • Check for a credit record: Since minors aren’t allowed to open lines of credit, children don’t normally have credit histories. Parents can check for fraud by writing to the credit reporting companies to see if there has been a credit record established in a child’s name or Social Security Number. Just be cautious, because ordering a credit report, particularly if you do it more than once, may create a file in that child’s name. This will make it difficult to check if actual fraud has happened later on.
  • How necessary is it: Must you provide a child’s identity information when many institutions and companies lack the resources to protect it? To protect children against ID theft, parents must be extra-vigilant when giving out a child’s Social Security Number.
  • Protect data: Shred all documents you don’t need that contain personal information with your child’s data on it to protect your child’s identity. It’s not necessary to carry around a child’s Social Security Numbers.
  • A new Social Security Number: Getting a new Social Security Number if fraud occurs may not solve all your problems. It could be challenging to verify that all legitimate records associated with a child – including school and medical records – are transferred cleanly and completely over to a new number. Use this only as a last resort.

If your kids are college-aged, they’re also vulnerable to child ID theft. College students may not be as aware of identity theft as older adults, who are used to double-checking statements and shredding documents, so they may let their guard down. For example, sensitive mail, with identity details or credit card offers, can be misplaced and read by anyone in a college dormitory. Some identity thieves stake out dumpsters behind college dorm rooms, in hopes of finding pre-approved credit card offers.

Whether you’ve got little ones running around or older children who only come home to do their laundry, learn more about how to protect kids against identity thieves.