Children and credit reports: why parents should start checking

Turning 16 years old marks many milestones for a child: learning to drive, preparing for college, and yes, his or her first credit check. While it may seem counterintuitive (after all, most teens don’t have a credit history), the reality is that identity theft can happen to anyone at any age. Checking their credit report may be the only way to detect illegal activity. To protect your children against fraud, here are some things to keep in mind:

Kids are particularly vulnerable

Children are susceptible to identity theft because no one expects them to be targets. Unfortunately, they don’t need lines of credit or even a checking account to be victims. If a thief obtains their social security number, he can apply for loans, credit cards and even file taxes (and get a refund). And of course, much of this activity will be reflected on their credit report.

Nip the problem in the bud

The fallout from identity theft can be damaging for anyone, but it’s especially hard for young adults. A spotted credit report can keep them from getting started in life, making it tough to obtain credit cards and home loans. But if you identify false or inaccurate information early, you may be able to stop it from causing a long-term financial headache.

Opportunity for a money lesson

While identity theft can be a worrisome topic, use the credit report check as a chance to teach your children about finances. Start a discussion about credit, and how to properly use it. If you lay a strong foundation now, they’ll be more likely to make money-smart decisions when they get older.

What you can do

So how do you get started? Contact the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), and ask them to run a manual search on your child. Typically, children don’t have credit reports (unless, of course, someone has obtained and used their information).

If your child has false or incorrect information on the report, visit identitytheft.gov/child for information addressing this kind of problem.

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