Child identity theft: how to keep kids safe from online scammers

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Parents spend countless hours investing in their children’s future. From quality time, to saving for college – or heck, saving for summer camp – we try to plan for everything. Which is why parents need to know about one lesser-known online safety issue facing kids today. 

So here it is: Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America, and kids are being targeted, too. In 2021, the U.S. The Bureau of Justice reported that 9% of the U.S. population had been victims of identity theft in the last 12 months. Unfortunately, scammers are casting a wide net that includes kids. In fact, a Washington Post article reported that 1.25 million children were victims of identity theft in 2022

Often, young victims have no idea their identity has been stolen until they are in their late teens or early adulthood and go to take out credit cards or loans for themselves. Most parents aren’t in the habit of checking their 9-year-old’s credit score, so these crimes can go undetected for years and cause significant harm. And of course, going undetected makes the crime more lucrative. As if parents don’t have enough to worry about.

Now, let’s take a moment to breathe. 

These facts aren’t meant to scare you. The reality is that the internet is a beautiful, wide world of information. What would the world be like if you couldn’t research the best books for first graders, find a thirty-minute recipe, donate to a great organization you found on social media, or look up the average weight of a hippopotamus? (It’s 3500 pounds 🦛). 

Having that information at your fingertips is empowering! Which is exactly why we want you to be informed about your kids’ identity theft risk and how to protect them. 

Check out this guide to learn everything you need to know about the types of identity theft that affect children, and the steps you can take to safeguard their future. 

What is child identity theft?

Child identity theft is when someone uses your child’s personally identifiable information (PII) to wrongfully get services or benefits, or commit fraud. Basically, it means a scammer will use your child’s identity to get money for themselves under false pretenses and leave your child liable. 

Okay, so what’s a PII?

The most common example of PII is a social security number. Most people in the U.S. are issued one at birth, and an SSN is used on many identifying documents like tax paperwork, job applications, and even household bills.

Here are some types of theft scammers can use if they get ahold of your child’s social security number:

  • Open a new bank or credit card account in their name.
  • Take out fraudulent loans with multiple financial institutions.
  • Apply for government benefits such as unemployment.
  • Use a stolen or “synthetic” identity to illegally obtain goods or services. 

Other types of PII adults have are driver’s license numbers, bank account numbers, and personal tax IDs, but an SNN is by far the most desirable PII since it’s linked to so much other information. 

Many families don’t even know the child is a victim until years later, and the news and consequences can be devastating. Child identity theft can take months or even years to undo and can alter an entire family’s sense of safety. 

Keep reading to learn more or jump ahead to read about steps you can take.

Boy looking at his phone outdoors

How does child identity theft happen? 

Part of protecting your child’s identity is understanding how theft happens. You may be surprised to learn that some of the most common types of fraud take place offline. Covering your bases proves extra important. 

There are five main types of child identity fraud: 

  • Theft within the family (i.e., familial fraud): Family members, close friends, and legal guardians are most likely to commit child identity theft. (A Javelin study concludes that 70% of child identity theft victims know the perpetrator). These people have access to the child or family and can take steps to hide the fraud.
  • Phishing scams on email or social media: We’ve all fallen for a phishing email a time or two. And kids are no exception. Children who use the internet unsupervised are also at higher risk of identity theft. These scams target them with the intent of getting personal information, like a SNN. 
  • Data breaches from companies with your child’s SSN: Billions of pieces of PII have been leaked in data breaches in the past few years. Any company that stores your child’s SSN can be hacked, leading to your child’s personal information being available on the Dark Web. 
  • Account hacking: Hackers can access your or your child’s devices through unsecured Wi-Fi networks, password hacking, or malware. Any of these types of cyber attacks can lead to your child’s personal information being stolen. Unfortunately, with the rise of remote learning, these scams have become even more prevalent.
  • Physical theft of sensitive information: Documents that contain your child’s SSN can be stolen from the mail or out of your trash. In some cases, criminals will bribe employees at companies or schools to hand over sensitive information. Wild!

Remember, information is power. Keep reading. 

How to tell if your child’s identity has been stolen.

Repeat: we don’t want to scare you! But vigilance is key here. If you receive strange mail, calls, or messages with your child’s name, you should investigate immediately. There’s a possibility they wound up on some spam lists, but these unsolicited communications are a huge red flag. 

  • Your child starts to receive bills in their name. 
  • Your child receives credit cards or pre-approved card offers in the mail. 
  • You start to receive calls from collection agencies asking for your child. 
  • Your child already has a credit file in their name. (You can check this by contacting the major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.) 
  • You get a notification from the IRS that your child’s name or SSN has been used on another tax return or that your child owes income taxes.
  • Your child is denied government benefits. 
  • You receive age-inappropriate junk mail addressed to your child.

Again, don’t shrug these off! Taking fast action now can be a huge lifesaver for your child and family down the line.

10 ways to protect your child from identity theft.

These ten steps can help put essential safeguards in place to help protect your child’s identity. 

1. Freeze your child’s credit immediately.

Children under the age of 16 shouldn’t have a credit file. If yours does, there’s a good chance they’ve been targeted by an identity thief. 

Contact each of the three major credit bureaus and ask them to check for any credit files associated with your child’s SSN. Even if you find nothing, you should ask them to freeze your child’s credit. 

Here’s how to get in touch with the credit bureaus to freeze your child’s credit report:

Equifax: Call 1-888-378-4329 or fill out and mail in a minor security freeze request form.

Experian: Use their online portal to fill out a minor security freeze request (or print and mail it in).

TransUnion: Send a request for a “protected consumer freeze” including copies of your government-issued ID and documentation that you have authority to act on behalf of the minor. 

Each bureau (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) has slightly different requirements. To be safe, send in copies of the following documentation:

  • Your government-issued ID. 
  • Your birth certificate.
  • Proof you have authority to act on behalf of the minor (such as a foster care certification, power of attorney, or your child’s birth certificate).
  • Both your and your child’s Social Security card. 
  • Proof of your address.
  • Keep copies of everything you send to each credit bureau. When you receive a confirmation letter, it will include your child’s credit PIN, which you’ll need to unfreeze it later on. Store everything in a secure place along with your other sensitive documents. 

2. Don’t give out your child’s SSN.

Keep your child’s SSN and physical Social Security card secure and don’t give them out if it’s not absolutely necessary. In almost all cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the only entity that requires your child’s Social Security number. 

If a school or doctor’s form requests their SSN, leave it blank. If they’re adamant that you include it, ask why they need it, how they’ll use it, and how it will be stored. You can always give them just the last four digits (instead of the full number).

3. Keep your child’s sensitive documents in a secure location.

Unfortunately, the majority of child identity theft is carried out by family members or other people you know. Any document with your child’s personal information should be kept in a secure place away from prying eyes (ideally, a locked and fireproof safe). 

Here’s what you should keep locked away: 

  • Your child’s Social Security card.
  • Your child’s birth certificate.
  • Any medical records (to prevent medical identity theft).
  • Other documents with sensitive information. 

4. Start monitoring your child’s credit and SSN.

It’s impossible to constantly monitor everywhere a criminal might use your child’s SSN. Also, that would be super stressful! Credit and identity monitoring services scan databases and can alert you of potential signs of identity theft. 

For example, Aura will alert you if your child’s SSN or personal information has been stolen and leaked online.

5. Teach your kids not to overshare online (and don’t do it yourself).

Oversharing on social media can make you the target of phishing attacks and imposter scams, where fraudsters pretend to be friends or people you trust and get you to give up your account information. 

Children on social media are also at a higher risk of having their passwords and other personal information leaked in data breaches. 

To help keep your family safe on social media, make sure to:

  • Use the strictest privacy settings on your profile to restrict who can see and interact with your posts. 
  • Limit commenting and message access to only close friends and followers. 
  • Teach your kids not to post personal information, such as their birthday, address, SSN, driver’s license, or other documents. 
  • Consider disabling location sharing.
  • Think twice before posting publicly on any social media site.
  • Limit their use of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.

Even basic information can be enough for an identity thief. A scammer can use photos of your phone to uncover your address or use your posts to guess passwords or security questions, like your pet’s name or child’s birthday.

6. Secure your child’s devices from hackers.

Your child’s phone, tablet, and laptop could potentially be hacked by scammers who want to steal their personal information. 

Keep their devices and your home network safe from scammers by:

  • Enabling biometric security (fingerprints, face ID, etc.) to lock their devices. 
  • Encrypting their data so that if they get hacked, their data can’t be accessed. (All devices running iOS use data encryption by default. Here’s how to encrypt your data on Android or Windows devices.)
  • Installing antivirus software to protect against malware attacks. 
  • Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your home network to stop hackers from spying on you and your family.
  • Teaching your kids to spot the signs of an online scammer.
  • 7. Don’t ignore strange mail in your child’s name
  • Bills, junk mail, and other strange mail in your child’s name is a huge red flag. If you start to receive anything suspicious, contact the company directly to see how they got your child’s information. Be especially cautious if you start to receive pre-approved credit card offers as this is a clear sign that your child has a credit file (even if you didn’t start it). 

8. Limit the number of accounts and services your child signs up for.

Think twice before entering your child’s information on apps, websites, giveaways, or services. Whenever possible, only use your own email address rather than any identifying information. 


9. Delete personal information off old devices before trashing them.

Like most parents or guardians, you probably have devices full of photos of your children as well as their personal information. If you ever decide to sell, donate, or recycle an old device, wipe it and restore it to factory settings first.

10. Sign up for family identity theft protection.

You know the importance of child identity theft prevention, but you’re also just a person. It’s impossible to be everywhere at once. That’s why an identity theft protection service can be a powerful tool for keeping your entire family safe.

Was your child’s identity stolen?

And finally, if you’re here because you suspect your child’s identity was stolen, follow these steps right away:

  • Contact the fraud department at any company where your child’s identity was used. Ask the companies to close those accounts right away and request a letter of confirmation to make sure it was done. 
  • Contact the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and ask them to remove fraudulent accounts.
  • Freeze your child’s credit report with each of the credit bureaus. This requires lenders to verify your child’s identity before extending credit.
  • File an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at
  • File a police report for identity theft with local law enforcement. This is an especially important step if a family member committed the crime and you want to press charges.
  • Contact the SSA to check if your child’s SSN has been used elsewhere (such as for taxes, government benefits, or employment). If it has, you may be able to change their Social Security number.

As parents, we do a lot to try to keep our kids safe. Information is power, and knowing about crimes like child identity fraud is an important first step to safeguarding your child’s financial future. Time to put those security measures in place and finally take that deep breath. 

Once your kids have their own social media accounts, follow them to monitor what they share. Give them guidance on what’s safe to share and what could be putting them at risk.

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