Children who are under 18 usually don't have a credit record. After all, young kids normally don’t apply for mortgages, bank loans, or credit cards. For this reason, a child’s personal data—like a Social Security number—that isn’t associated with delinquent accounts is very appealing to an identity thief.
If a criminal steals your child’s personal information, the thief can use that information to take out loans and get other types of credit. When the thief fails to repay those debts, your child’s credit will be severely damaged. And this crime might go unnoticed for years. But you can preemptively stop a crook from damaging your child’s credit with a credit freeze.
A credit freeze—also called a security freeze—prevents potential creditors from accessing a person's credit information. When a credit freeze is in place, the credit reporting bureau can’t release credit information to a third party, subject to a few exceptions, like existing creditors and current accounts. So, if a thief tries to use stolen data to apply for a loan or credit card while a freeze is in effect, the creditor will reject the application because it can't check the applicant's credit history. As a result, the thief can't open a credit line using the stolen identity. (To learn more, see What’s a Credit Freeze and When Should I Use One?)
Placing a credit freeze for your child with the three major credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—can prevent an identity thief from opening up new accounts in your child’s name. (To find out what recovery steps victims of identity theft should take, see Stolen Identity? Take These Recovery Steps.)
To freeze your child's credit, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies. You’ll need to provide some documentation, like a copy of your child’s birth certificate, as well as proof that you have the parental right to freeze the child’s credit, like a copy of your driver’s license that shows your name and address.
If your child doesn’t already have a credit report with the agency, ask the agency to create one and then freeze it. (It's good news if your child doesn't already have a report with the agency; it usually means a thief isn't opening accounts under the child's name.)
Before September 21, 2018, state law mostly governed credit freezes for minors, including how much a credit reporting agency could charge for a freeze and who could request one. Most states have a law that requires the agencies to create and freeze credit reports for a minor if a parent or other representative makes the request, though these laws typically apply only to children under age 16. A few states have laws that require the agencies to create and freeze credit files for children 16 and over. (To learn the specific credit freeze laws in your state, go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website or talk to an attorney.)
As of September 21, 2018, federal law made credit freezes free for all customers who ask for one. (15 U.S.C. § 1681c-1). The law also requires the credit agencies to create and freeze files for kids under 16 at the request of a legal representative, like a parent. But this federal law doesn’t require the agencies to honor requests from a representative on behalf of children ages 16 or 17. Again, some states have laws that require the agencies to create and freeze credit files for children who are older than 16, if a parent or other representative makes the request.
It's important to take steps to protect your children—and yourself—from identity thieves. In addition to putting a freeze on your child’s (and perhaps your) credit file, you should:
(To learn more about stopping identity theft before it happens, see Top Ten Ways to Prevent Identity Theft.)
If you need more information about credit freeze laws, you want help dealing with debt collection agencies, or you would like assistance getting the credit bureaus to remove fraudulent information from your child’s credit report, consider talking to a consumer protection attorney or a debt settlement lawyer.