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Everyday Cheapskate: Protect the kids from identity thieves

Faithful readers may recall from a recent column that one of my staff members, Max, has been contending with identity theft since he was a teenager. Well, Max’s problems have not ended.

In just the past week Max has received three more emails from the service he has hired to protect his identity, with information on three people trying to open credit card accounts using his Social Security number. Lifelock (everydaycheapskate.com/lifelock) put a stop to them immediately before they could even complete the first step. And that’s in just one week.

Recently, I heard from David H., who wrote, “Lifelock seems very nice at the individual monthly rates; however, I am married with three children, so to protect all identities would be $100 per month. Is there a more economical solution?”

There is no doubt that thieves are stealing the identity of innocent children, and it’s becoming a big problem. A service like Lifelock can give parents peace of mind, but David is right that the cost can add up quickly. So my advice would be to make sure the adults in the family have rock solid ID theft protection in place.

Now let’s talk about the minor children and steps parents can take to protect the kids’ identities.

According to the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, a child’s Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service or rent a place to live. Check for a credit report to see if your child’s information is being misused. Take immediate action if it is.

Many school forms require personal and, sometimes, sensitive information. Find out how your child’s information is collected, used, stored and thrown away. Your child’s personal information is protected by law. Asking schools and other organizations to safeguard your child’s information can help minimize your child’s risk of identity theft.

Parents should check with all three nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, TransUnion and EquiFax) and ask for a manual search of the child’s file. If your child’s credit report shows his or her information is being misused, call each company and ask them to remove all accounts, account inquiries, collection notices and any other file associated with our child’s name and Social Security number. Place a fraud alert on your child’s credit report. You can also request a credit freeze.

Protecting your children’s identity is not a one-time effort. It’s something wise parents will do ongoing — either on their own or using a reputable service, until that child reaches adulthood.

In closing, I’ve been thinking about this and have to admit that in the 50 years I have lived in metropolitan Los Angeles, I have never witnessed a house on fire. Yet, I know that 99 percent of the millions of homeowners in Los Angeles and Orange County carry fire insurance on their homes. The likelihood of a home catching fire is minuscule because of all the ways we know to protect against its ravages. Still we insure.

Identity theft, on the other hand, is running rampant. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are 10 million ID fraud victims each year; 19 new victims every minute of every day, each instance resulting in approximately $3,500 in losses. The total financial loss annually is north of $35 billion. Yet few people see the need to protect themselves. Something is wrong with that picture.

LifeLock Ultimate (everydaycheapskate.com/lifelock) is not a free service. There is an annual premium for this type of protection. And I find it to be money well spent. We have partnered with LifeLock to offer Everyday Cheapskate readers a discount on the service when you use the coupon code EC30 at checkout. Whether you opt for LifeLock or some other identity theft protection, make sure you’re getting preventive service, not simply a company that reports back once the deed is done.

Mary invites questions at mary@everydaycheap skate.com, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Mary Hunt is founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website.

To find out more about Mary, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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