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What happens when a child’s identity is stolen?

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

Welcome to another installation of “my bad luck is your source for information!”

About six months ago, I reported my identity had been used by someone somewhere to file an unemployment claim. I was lucky. All it took were a handful of phone calls, a few hours and some mildly aggravating music-on-hold in order to sort the matter out.

But just because the thief hadn’t accessed any of my financial information, that didn’t mean I was in the clear. Bank accounts had to be flagged and credit cards replaced. I had to file a police report and notify all three credit reporting agencies that my personal information had been compromised.

Simply put, it was a pain in the a$$.

So, when a pre-paid debit card came in the mail Monday afternoon in my 11-year-old daughter’s name I figured I had all the answers and would breeze through the process with only a tinge of frustration.

How wrong I was.

First of all, this was not MY identity stolen. It was my daughter’s. That means that where I can make phone calls on my own behalf and answer a series of security questions to verify my identity, I can’t for her.

When an adult needs to flag their credit reports with the three reporting agencies a simple phone call to one of them – Experian – is all that’s needed. That agency has taken charge of notifying the other two.

But, when it’s a minor child you have to send a form to all three agencies along with a copy of the parent’s government-issued ID, a bill with the parent’s name and address and a copy of the child’s birth certificate.

Again, that goes to all three reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

But, and here’s the kicker, if your last name is not the same as it appears on your child’s birth certificate – as is the case with my daughter – there’s a whole new heap of problems. Along with the bare minimum documents, you also have to include copies of documents showing how and why the last names don’t match.

This situation is usually the result of either a divorce or a mother who chooses not to take her husband’s name.

In my case this requires the marriage certificate showing how my maiden name got to my daughter’s name and then the divorce document showing the marriage had been dissolved and then another marriage certificate showing how my name got from my previous name to my new name.

Is your head spinning yet?

Once those documents are procured and sent off, the parent of the minor whose identity was stolen can then expect to receive further instruction from the credit reporting agencies regarding whether or not the child’s credit had been used.

If it has, enter the dispute process.

Think that’s rough? It gets worse. A series of phone calls and due diligence over the coming weeks are not the end of the road.

While TransUnion seems to be the only reasonable agency where this circumstance is concerned – they freeze your child’s credit until he/she turns 18 – the other two agencies require follow-ups.

Equifax requires parents to re-freeze their child’s credit after identifying information has been compromised every two years. Experian requires the same until the child’s 14th birthday. At that point the freeze stays in effect until they are 18.

Can you imagine how weird it was to put things on my calendar 5 years down the road? Who the hell can remember these things?

The national identity theft resource center also requests parents contact the Social Security administration to ensure no one has been using their child’s Social Security number to work.

If this happens it could be a future tax nightmare for your child.

They also recommend filing a police report and contacting any banks where your child may be named on a savings account or other account to instruct them not to sell your child’s information to third parties.

It’s also a good idea to notify the Federal Trade Commission in case a criminal investigation into the theft can be pursued. An operator there will ask a series of questions about how the personal information was compromised, including who had access to information. The adviser I spoke with also asked a series of questions about people close to you – namely, are any of them having financial trouble?

Sadly, I also had to answer questions about my daughter’s father and step-mother to cast aside any question about whether or not they could be responsible. Many reported incidents of child identity thefts occur when a parent uses their child’s Social Security number to open credit cards or make large purchases using credit.

According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group, one in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised. In all, 13 million people were victims of identity theft in 2013.

If parents ignore the implications of identity theft, a child could have problems down the road renting an apartment, getting a job, filing taxes or even buying a car or house.

Though many derogatory credit reportings fall off a person’s report eventually, some people whose identities were stolen as a child spend years trying to clear their name.

Though I’m absolutely livid I have to go to leaps and bounds to make sure my daughter doesn’t have those problems, I say, better me than her.

Here are some helpful phone numbers to call should you find yourself in this unfortunate situation:

Identity theft resource center: 1-888-400-5530 (option 2)

Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-438-4338

Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271

Experian: 1-800-311-4769

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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