SPECIAL REPORT: Child identity theft - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Child identity theft

(WAOW) -- Parents do a lot of things to protect their children. They teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, tell them the stove is hot and dress them warmly before heading out in the snow.

But are parents protecting their children's identity? If not – experts say you should be.

"It's growing very, very rapidly," said Identity Theft Specialist Steve Steffke.

Steffke works out of Wausau. He says child identity theft is on the rise. "A short time ago, 6 months to 18 months ago, it was considered one of the fastest growing areas. Still is."

But what makes it so appealing to criminals? Why not just steal an adult's identity? Experts say it's because stealing a child's identity can go undetected for a long time.

"If an infants identity, name, birth date and social security number are stolen shortly after birth it might be 10, 14, 16 years before it's discovered," Steffke told Newsline 9.

There are many ways thieves can steal your child's identity. One of them is through the trash. So before you get rid of important documents, be sure to destroy them properly.

Shred letters, forms or other documents containing information about your child before throwing them away.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a number of ways to protect your child's identity. First – keep important documents locked up and don't carry your little one's social security card with you.

Second – only share your son or daughter's social security number with trusted parties. If someone asks for it – ask why, how they'll keep it safe, how long they'll have it and how they'll destroy it. If you don't like the answers – don't give them the number.

But it's not just paper that can get you in trouble. Your computer holds enormous amounts of information. And it's crucial that you keep it secure. So, what can you do?

Only share important information online if you have a secured connection and are using firewalls. Sending information in a public place leaves you and your child quite vulnerable.

"If there's no need to know for someone asking a question, especially a social security number, but even the date of birth, the child's full name, address, unless it's very essential, they should just be very aware of the situation and protect their children's information best they can," said Steffke.

What are some warning signs if your child's identity has already been stolen?

First – your child is turned down for government benefits. If benefits are being paid to another account with the same social security number – the federal government will deny you.

Second – you get a notice from the IRS. It maybe to confirm employment even though your child has never had a job.

Third – you receive collection calls. These could be from credit card companies or medical providers.

Finally – your little one gets credit card offers, which would mean they have some kind of credit.

"Usually it's not discovered until there's some kind of financial ramification. Creditors, collectors, those kinds of things," Steffke told Newsline 9.

If it's too late and your child's identity has already been stolen, there are steps you can take. Contact credit reporting companies and call your local police department.

While it's good to know what red flags to look for and what to do once your child's identity is stolen, police say don't let it get to that point.

"The best thing that we can do is go for prevention, and to try to get the word out there," said Wausau Police Department Detective Nathan Cihlar.

Check for a credit report by clicking here

What to do when your child turns 16

What warning signs to look for by clicking here

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