NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Child identity theft afflicts some 1 in 40 families (2.5%), and if child identity fraud isn’t detected until after a child turns 18, it can cause big problems in his life down the road. What are the signs of child identity theft? What do you do if you think your children have become victims?

Why Steal a Child’s Identity?

A lot of people aren’t sure why their children would be victims of identity fraud. However, Jack Tomarchio, partner and co-chair of Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney’s cybersecurity and data protection group and a former Deputy Undersecretary with the Department of Homeland Security says that it’s simple.

“Their credit history is totally pristine and pure,” he says.

What’s more, because no one generally checks his kid’s credit report, people don’t know that the identity has been compromised until they get a huge credit card bill in their infant’s name.

“If I got any kind of letter to my child indicating creditworthiness, I would start looking,” Tomarchio says.

Red Flags Indicating a Compromised Identity

Still, Mike Sullivan of Take Charge America urges people to be calm and collected when it comes to child identity theft.

“Even if it is stolen, it’s not going to do much damage if the child is under 16,” he says.

What’s more, Sullivan points out that you have lots of time to fix it before it will begin impacting your child’s life in any way.

So what are some of the red flags you’re looking for when it comes to your child’s identity being stolen?

  • Credit Card Offers: Your children shouldn’t be getting credit offers of any kind in the mail. If they get this kind of mail, it means that creditors think that they might be creditworthy -- a sign that someone is using their credit files.
  • Social Security Statements: If you receive a statement from the Social Security Administration reporting wages from the year, this is a telltale sign that you child’s identity is being used by someone else for gainful employment.
  • Bills: In the event that your child gets bills in the mail for anything, it’s time to start pulling their credit report.

Otherwise, Sullivan believes there are two reasons to pull a child’s credit report before he turns 18: once right before a kid gets his license and once right before he turns 18.

“Your child can get arrested on outstanding warrants that aren’t theirs,” he says, adding, “Having a driver’s license in your ID that is owned by someone else is extremely dangerous.”

Pulling Your Child’s Credit Report

Still, according to Sullivan, it’s not that easy to pull your child’s credit report.

“You have to prove you’re the parent or guardian, explain why you’re doing it and prove that you’re legally allowed to,” he says.

What specifically credit reporting bureaus will want varies from one to the next.

The best answer is that the credit-reporting bureau has no information on your child at all.

What To Do If Your Child Is a Victim

Part of why you want to do this now is that it’s a lot easier to fix before a child turns 18 than after.

“A child, by definition, cannot have a negative entry on their credit report,” says Sullivan.

He says that you’ll have to do some following up like you would in any situation, but a birth certificate can often suffice.

“You just need to prove that the child is under 18,” Sullivan says. Once you do that, the credit reporting agencies, as well as the credit card companies are bound by law to take the debt from hanging over your child’s head.

Compare this to when a child turns 18: It becomes a lot harder to get things removed, because your now-adult child has to prove that he didn’t make any of the charges. Do right by your child: Give him the gift of a clean credit report once he turns 18.

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet