Nothing makes sense when you’re 18 — especially not your credit score. Many people at that age are applying for student loans for the first time or getting a low-limit credit card to build up credit. But imagine finding out that your credit score is irreversibly tarnished before you’ve even opened up your first account. You don’t have to be over 18 to be the victim of identity theft. How to protect your child’s credit is more important than ever, since most sensitive information is already living on the internet.
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According to CreditCards.com, more than 1 million children are affected by identity theft each year. So what can you do to protect your child’s identity? DoctorOz.com spoke with security expert and CEO of FreezeID.com, Robert Siciliano to cover all the bases.
Freeze Your Child’s Credit
The most seamless way to protect your child’s credit, according to Siciliano, is to freeze it. For kids, it’s more of a lengthy process, but ultimately worth it. “Freezing your credit [or your child’s] now prevents the bad guy from opening up other accounts under your name,” says Siciliano. “When [anyone’s] credit is frozen, when a lender goes to check your credit because they received an application for a new line of credit from the bad guy, they get denied and frozen out. They can’t see what your scores are, they can’t read your credit report, therefore they’re not going to issue credit under your name” to anyone else. Freezing credit simply means nothing can be issued in your name until you un-freeze it, which is a much more lengthy process.
To freeze your child’s credit, you have to start by going to the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. On those websites, you can download a to-do list of sorts, where you have to print out a few documents and physically mail them in. In the future, when you want to unfreeze credit, you’ll have a dashboard set up within those bureaus. For an adult, says, Siciliano, it’s all automated. You can plug all of the information in and freeze your credit easily.
Should Adults Freeze Their Credit, Too?
“If you have a pulse, you should freeze your credit,” says Siciliano. “It is an absolute no-brainer. Right now, your social security number is in the hands of criminals as we speak, just from public records. They can use that information to open up new lines of credit the same way you can right now. So whatever you can do with your credit by having a social, so can a bad guy,” he says.
Should You Be Worried About Social Media?
According to Siciliano, as long as your kids aren’t posting their social security numbers, they’re fine from credit fraud or identity theft through social media. But that’s not to say their social security information can’t be found elsewhere. The thing you have to worry about on social media is posts that can affect basic privacy and online reputation in the long run. Even scarier, “people can take what we post and take the data we put out there to contact us and use that information to convince us that they might be a government agency,” says Siciliano. “They could then use that information to convince us that they are a credit card company that needs our social.”
Parents can also make sure that their kids are only using a wifi network that’s password protected, and that all electronics in the house are updated with the latest versions of iOS or Windows. “All of this is basic computer security stuff that parents should be doing now to protect their kids from things that are stored on that device,” says Siciliano.
Get Ahead of Your Child's Credit
Siciliano is quick to share a story that still haunts him. He struck up a conversation with a 19-year-old kid who was working as a contractor on his property. He was unable to attend college because when he tried to apply for loans, he was rejected immediately. Eventually, he discovered that someone had stolen his identity as a child and bought cars in his name when he was only 11 years old. He wanted to get an education, but couldn’t because of identity theft.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to convince the credit bureaus that the accounts opened in your name as a child weren’t really you. “The credit bureaus are unforgiving in this regard, they’re not set up to just reset your clock for you the way they should,” says Siciliano. They’re behind the times, so it’s up to you to take charge of your credit and your child’s credit.
Dr. Oz's foundation, HealthCorps, brings health and wellness education, like media literacy and online privacy, directly to the classroom in high schools across the country. It’s mission is to educate young people about mental and physical wellness, equipping teens with the tools and the knowledge to become resilient in mind and body for their long-term success and that of their community. HealthCorps teamed up with iSpeakMedia to implement new courses on digital literacy that are scheduled for May 2020. To learn more about HealthCorps and see the curriculum offered online, please visit www.healthcorps.org.