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Child Identity Theft

November 11, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about protecting your child from identity theft. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Susan Cosgrove, Mississippi State University Extension Area Agent. Susan, each day we learn of new cyber risks and threats. Parents have an enormous responsibility guarding the online safety of their children. Today we're going to talk about that. How can child identity theft happen?

Susan Cosgrove: Well, just some scenarios here. Parents, how would you feel if you discovered that your child's social security number had been used to establish credit, and thousands of dollars of debt was in your child's name? What would you do if your child was in foreclosure on a home in another state? Wouldn't you want to know if your child had run up a huge utility bill across town? A child's social security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open back accounts, and credit card accounts, apply for a loan, or utility service, or rent a place to live. This can happen just like it can with us.

Amy Myers: Why are children the target of identity theft?

Susan Cosgrove: Well, Amy, one reason is a child's identity is a blank slate and the probability of discovery is low. The child will not be using it for a long time. Parents typically don't monitor their children's identities either. Also, unused social security numbers are uniquely valuable, as the thieves compare them with any name and birthdate. This is particularly useful for illegal immigration. The potential impact on the child's future is profound. This could destroy or damage a child's ability to get student loans, get a mobile phone, obtain a job, or to get a place to live.

Amy Myers: What are the common warning signs of a child's identity theft?

Susan Cosgrove: The family can get calls from collection agencies, bills from credit card companies, or medical providers, or get credit card offers in the child's name. The child can be denied government benefits, because another account is using that social security number, and that number is already receiving benefits. The Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, or other government agency, may ask to confirm that a child is employed, even though the child has never even had a job. The IRS may notify the parent that the same information he or she filed for a dependent child is listed on another tax return, or a child may receive a notice from the IRS saying that he or she failed to pay taxes on income that the child has never received.

Amy Myers: What can parents do to protect their children's identities?

Susan Cosgrove: They can contact the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, to see if their child has a credit history. If they do, then something is wrong. Steps to clear up fraud would be included with the credit report from each credit bureau. Parents need to protect their child's sensitive documents. Then it is very important to teach children about identity theft and online safety.

Amy Myers: Susan, some other things that we can do is, whether we're at a bank, or a store, or a doctor's office, or any kind of transaction that we may have, and if someone, like a clerk, asks us what our social security number is, can we just say, "Hey, can you just ask for my last four digits or is there another piece of information I can give you besides my social security number?" Because you never know who can be listening or if it's related to your child's information, you never know who could be trying to get access to it. Is that correct?

Susan Cosgrove: That's correct. At places, like healthcare providers, it's good to just write it down and show it to them, rather than telling it to them. But in stores, stores do not need our social security numbers, so if they need a number for some kind of identification, try to use your driver's license number instead.

Amy Myers: Of course, don't give your child's social security number out to anybody for any reason, and don't leave their medical appointment documents, or anything, lying around where folks can see it. Also, we can get more information at the Federal Trade Commission. Is that correct?

Susan Cosgrove: That is a very good agency to get information from, especially, for identity theft.

Amy Myers: That website is Is that correct?

Susan Cosgrove: That's correct.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Susan Cosgrove, Extension Area Agent. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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