Having a child might mean that you’ll be asked to fill out numerous registration and signup forms as they grow up — some that may ask you to provide your child’s Social Security number (SSN). For instance, you might be asked to disclose their SSN at a routine doctor’s office visit or when you enroll them in school. When asked to give out sensitive personal information, it’s critical to know when you should (and shouldn’t) give out your child’s SSN to help minimize the risk of identity theft.
Why Would Someone Steal My Child’s Identity?
Unlike most adults, children do not have credit cards or loans, which means their credit history is clean, says Experian. This is enticing to thieves because it gives them a blank slate to open multiple lines of credit, such as a mortgage or credit cards. Children might also be a target of identity theft because thieves know that parents don’t typically check up on their kids’ credit history, adds Experian. Often times, a child will go to use their SSN for the first time — such as on a job or college application — and this is when parents find out their child’s identity was stolen.
When Should I Expect to Provide Their SSN?
According to the Social Security Administration, you will likely need to disclose your child’s SSN in the following situations:
To claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return
To open a bank account or buy a savings bond for your child
To obtain medical coverage for your child
To apply for government services for your child
When Can I Opt Out of Providing a SSN?
There are some situations where you may be asked to provide your child’s SSN, but it isn’t always necessary. As a general precaution, it may be a good idea to ask the source why you are being asked to provide the number if you are ever unsure of the reasoning, says Experian. Below are a few examples when you may be asked to provide your child’s SSN and what you should know:
Starting a new school year: Your local schools may ask for your child’s SSN during registration, but they are not allowed to deny your child’s enrollment if you choose not to disclose it, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Additionally, when it comes to protecting the privacy of your child’s student records, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives you the right to opt out of sharing contact or other directory information with third parties. Be sure to contact your child’s school if you’d like to opt out of sharing this kind of information.
Signing up for after-school activities: When signing your child up for sports or after-school programs, confirm whether providing your child’s SSN is truly necessary. Depending on how it will be used, alternate forms of identification may suffice, says Experian. Also, be sure to take note of each program’s privacy policies to find out how your child’s information will be used and shared.
At the doctor’s office: Many healthcare providers ask for a SSN to easily identify and reach you if medical bills go unpaid, according to Consumer Reports. However, giving out your child’s SSN is not always a must — instead, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests offering an alternative form of identification, or only the last four digits of the SSN.
How do I Know if My Child’s Identity Has Been Stolen?
There are a few signs that should alert you to potential misuse of your child’s personal information, says the FTC. These might include getting notices from the Internal Revenue Service regarding your child owing taxes, or receiving bills and collection calls for accounts you did not sign up for. If you suspect that someone has stolen your child’s identity, check to see if your child has a credit report, and if they do, immediately contact companies where suspected fraud has occurred to close accounts. The FTC adds that it may also be a good idea to freeze your child’s credit until they are old enough to use it as a preventative measure.
If you’re ever unsure as to why an organization is requesting your child’s SSN, don’t be afraid to ask why they need it and if it’s necessary. By taking a few precautions now, you can help protect your child’s identity and ensure their information does not end up in the wrong hands.
Originally published on September 1, 2014.
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