The Better Business Bureau is warning parents to watch for signs that point to their child's identity being compromised or stolen.
Last year, 8.1 million Americans were victims of ID theft, resulting in the loss of $37 billion, according to a 2011 report from Javelin Strategy and Research. While this number is high, NBC Today reports that it becomes harder to define how many children are actually affected by identity theft because most cases go undiscovered for years.
Hundreds of online businesses are finding inactive Social Security numbers online — most of which are assigned to children under age 18 — and selling them under different names to help people establish fake credit. The scheme may lead to significant debts for children that might be impossible to pay off.
The BBB urges parents to follow these steps to secure their child's identity:
* Be aware of how to obtain your child's credit report.
Getting access to your child's records is actually a different process than obtaining your own. For parents with children under age 13, the easiest way to obtain your child's records is through Trans Union. According to NBC Today, if Trans Union says there is no report, odds are good your child is in the clear. But if there is a report — or you have a specific reason to think your child is a victim — you'll want to follow up with the nation's other two major credit bureaus — Experian and Equifax — and get a report from them, too.
* Recognize the signs of trouble.
Watch out for red flags that indicate there might be a problem, such as your son or daughter receiving pre-approved credit card offers or calls from collection agencies.
* Know what to do if you suspect your child's identity has been compromised.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, every parent should check their child's credit report on their 16th birthday. It's not good to check it too often, but checking then leaves time to correct errors and activity before your child goes off to college and tries to obtain financial aid.
* Place a credit freeze on your child's report.
If you are a resident of Kansas, you have the right to place a credit freeze on your credit report if you are a victim of identity theft and have filed a police report or complaint to a law enforcement agency concerning identity theft. A Credit Freeze will prevent access to your credit report, allowing you to control which companies may see your credit report.
To place a freeze, you must write to each of the three consumer credit reporting agencies listed above by certified mail. For more information on identity theft and how to place a credit freeze, visit the FTC's website, www.ftc.gov or call the toll-free Identity Theft helpline at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).
The BBB has learned of a common e-mail or phone scam in which individuals have posed as a relative or a friend in trouble, in fraudulent attempts to get you to send them money.
If you have questions regarding e-mail or phone scams, contact the BBB at 800-856-2417.
Roberta Namee and Mary Ann Redeker-Perez work for the Better Business Bureau in Wichita. If you have questions or concerns about a company, contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.