A decade ago, few of us knew much about identity theft. And victims of ID theft had few resources available to them for support. Today, ID theft is a growing concern, and a number of organizations have emerged offering protection from ID theft and guidance for victims who need to clear their name.

It’s no small feat to clear one’s name after an identity has been stolen. It’s time-consuming, overwhelming, and emotionally draining. And when the victim is a child, emotions can run even higher.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 400,000 children have their identities stolen every year. And the numbers are growing, says Zachary Friesen, a now-adult victim of child identity theft. “Parents need to be informed and careful,” Friezen says. “Parents are the child’s first line of defense.”

Friezen was 17 when he learned that his identity had been stolen 10 years earlier. “I was denied a student loan, and I came to find out that someone had purchased a $40,000 houseboat using my credit.”

It took Friezen many months to clear his name and get his credit back, and since then Friezen has become an expert on identity theft. Friezen, now 23, serves as a corporate spokesperson for LifeLock, an agency that provides both preventative measures and a safety net for individuals.

Why would an ID thief target children? Friezen says there are three reasons:

  • Children have a clean credit record.
  • Children don’t check their credit (in most cases for many years, which gives the thief more time to use—and damage—the credit).
  • Children are more likely than adults to give out their personal information.

And ID thieves are persistently targeting children these days, says Linda Foley, Founder and Chairman of Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). “We knew of a 3-month-old child, for instance, who had his ID stolen by a hospital worker, who took his information and used it when he went to an urgent care facility for a work-related back injury that required Vicodin,” Foley says. “There was a crime ring in Puerto Rico that was using children’s social security numbers and selling them.”

With the recent publicity about child victims of ID theft, parents are beginning to take notice and put in place plans to protect their children. Some parents even go so far as to have their newborn’s credit frozen. “This is certainly something you can do to keep the child safe,” Friezen says. “And there are organizations out there that will do the freeze for you if you don’t have the time.”

Foley also urges parents to be highly selective and careful when giving out their children’s social security numbers. Pediatricians and dentists often ask for this information, Foley says, but parents should question the necessity of it. And for sure, they shouldn’t write the social security numbers on a sign-in sheet for all to have access to. “Unfortunately anything that is of value is marketable,” says Foley.

The FTC suggests you ask the following questions when your child’s social security number is requested, even by a doctor:

  • Why do you need my child’s Social Security number?
  • How will my child’s Social Security number be used?
  • How do you protect my child’s Social Security number from being stolen?
  • What will happen if I don't give you my child’s Social Security number?

Foley, who started her nonprofit after her identity was stolen in 1997, suggests that parents stay informed by checking their children’s credit report regularly to make sure it’s clean. According to the FTC, you should order a copy of the credit report (yours and your children’s) once a year from all three credit bureaus:TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. The FTC says that the law permits credit bureaus to charge $8.50 for a copy of the report, unless you live in a state that requires the credit bureaus to provide you a free copy of your report annually.

An annual credit report check can ensure that nobody is out there using and abusing your child’s credit. A small price to pay for some peace of mind!

For more information about protecting yourself and your children from identity theft, visit the FTC web site.