Minors’ identities can be especially appealing to identity thieves. With a child’s Social Security number, fraudsters can open credit accounts and use them undetected for years until the child becomes an adult, applies for credit, gets denied and finally sees the damage.
It’s like taking credit from a baby.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? Because minors aren’t supposed to have credit reports, simply going to AnnualCreditReport.com once a year and checking for fraudulent accounts (as adults can) isn’t possible. The trusty credit freeze may seem appealing, but if your kid has no report, technically there’s nothing to freeze (until a thief makes a move).
Luckily, parents and guardians have options besides hoping for the best — and, in some states, the law guarantees them the ability to preemptively freeze their kids’ credit reports until they come of age.
We reached out to spokespeople from all three credit bureaus (TransUnion’s Clifton O’Neal, Experian’s Rod Griffin and Equifax’s Meredith Griffanti) for the most up-to-date information on safeguarding your kid’s credit.
Can I just check to see if my child has a credit report?
Yes. But if there’s a credit file attached to your child’s Social Security number, it’s not necessarily due to fraud. Adding your child as an authorized user on one of your accounts might generate a file, although that depends on how the creditor reports the account, notes Equifax’s Griffanti. If the child’s date of birth is reported by the credit provider and shows the child to be under 17, TransUnion will not create a report, O’Neal says. Experian, meanwhile, will disclose a report for anyone 14 or older if they have one.
If you’d like to check if your child has a credit report, here’s a rundown of each bureau’s instructions:
TransUnion: Visit this page and fill out the requested information to see if there’s a credit file attached to your child’s Social Security number.
Experian: If your child is older than 14, they can request their reports via AnnualCreditReport.com. If a file exists, Experian will disclose it. If not, you’ll be notified there’s no credit information available. If your child is under 14, you will need to mail in a request along with some required documents (including proof of the child’s identity and proof or your identity). Experian will then check if there’s credit information about your child. For instructions, the form, required documents and the mailing address, go here and click on “Minor Child Instructions.”
Equifax: Parents and guardians must make a request in writing to check the status of a minor’s credit. In addition to the request, include the following documents:
- Social Security card or birth certificate of the minor child. If you don’t have these documents, you may send form SSA-89.
- Proof of guardianship or identification documents that show parent/guardian’s name and current address.
Mail your request letter and documents to:
PO Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348
Or fax them to:
My child has a report. How do I freeze it?
For whatever reason, your child has a report, and you’d like to lock it down. Freezing your children’s credit locks the door to identity thieves, as it prevents new credit accounts from being opened in their names. Fortunately, if you’ve already performed Step 1 above, you’re already done some of the work.
TransUnion: Once you filled out this form (from Step 1), TransUnion will give you instructions and work with you on freezing your child’s credit if you wish.
Experian: If you’ve already performed Step 1 above (going to this page, selecting “Minor Child Instructions” and following the instructions) and your child has a report on file, that report will include instructions for freezing the credit file (for no charge).
Equifax: The request (along with the same documents listed above) must be made in writing to the same address listed above.
If my child doesn’t have a credit file, can I create one and then preemptively freeze it?
If your child doesn’t have a credit file, that’s a good sign. But parents may not be satisfied waiting for an identity thief to pounce. Fortunately, some state laws allow you to create a credit file for your child so you can freeze it, even if your child hasn’t been victimized. As of Jan. 2016, those states are: Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
If you live in one of those states, follow these instructions to request that the bureaus create a credit file for your child and then immediately place a freeze.
TransUnion: Send in a written request for a “protected consumer freeze” along with the required documentation. Full instructions are here. Whether you’ll need to pay a fee depends on your state, your child’s age and whether your child is already an identity-theft victim. View fees by state here.
Experian: Send a request in writing along with identification information for you and the child as well as proof of authority (which establishes that you are able to act on the minor’s behalf). Proof of authority includes one of the following:
- A court order that identifies the relationship between you and the protected consumer (ie, the minor child)
- A valid and lawfully executed power of attorney permitting you to act on the child’s behalf
- A written affidavit (signed by you and notarized) that expressly describes the relationship between you and the child as well as your authority to act on the child’s behalf.
Fees depend on your state, the child’s age and whether the child has already been victimized by ID thieves. In general, a signed identity theft declaration statement, police report or incident report will establish that the child has already been victimized, and any fee will be waived. For information specific to your state (as well as the mailing address), go here and select your state from the drop-down menu.
Equifax: There is no fee to freeze a minor’s credit. Send a written request and required documentation to:
Equifax Security Freeze – Minor Child
PO Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348
You’ll need to provide proof of guardianship and identifying information for you and the child. More instructions and a list of required documents can be found here.