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Protect Your Kids From ID Theft

Follow these tips to guard your child's personal information, and watch out for these signs that his or her identity has been stolen.

When was the last time you checked your child's credit report? Never, right? Not much reason to check a credit report for someone who doesn't have credit.

But that's exactly the reason kids are such easy targets for identity thieves, says Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911, which provides identity theft remediation services to businesses and consumers. ID thieves know children are an easy target because they likely won't check their credit reports until they're adults and need to apply for credit. So they can run up debt for years without being detected.

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About 400,000 children a year are victims of identity theft, Levin says. They become victims when criminals get their Social Security numbers from medical records, mail tampering, computer searches or a stolen wallet with the child's card in it.

How to protect your child's ID

Guard his or her Social Security number. Don't carry your child's Social Security card in your wallet. Don't give out your child's number on the phone unless you trust the recipient and never send the number in an e-mail. And don't give your kid his or her number until he or she is old enough to understand what it is.

Be careful about posting information about your child. If you want to let your Facebook friends or Twitter followers know that it's your child's birthday, don't tell them the child's age. ID thieves can use that information to figure out what year the child was born, in addition to the info you already provided about the day and month. (For that matter, don't ever post your complete birth date on a social networking site, either.) Talk to your children about the importance of protecting their personal information online.

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Be careful with the birth certificate. More and more sports teams are asking parents to present a birth certificate for proof of a child's age. Don't hand over an original. If the team needs your child's birth certificate on file, make a copy of it and show it to the coach. Then put it in a sealed envelope and write your name across the flap so it will be broken if the envelope is opened. Let the coach know that you expect to get the envelope back unopened at the end of the season.

Check your child's credit report. Go to annualcreditreport.com, which lets you get a free report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year. If you enter your child's information and no report comes back, you'll know that no credit has been taken out in your child's name.

Signs that your child's ID has been stolen

-- Your child receives unsolicited credit offers.

-- Your child receives letters from debt collectors.

-- The IRS send you a letter stating that the Social Security number listed for your child on your tax return (or the child's) is a duplicate number.

-- The bank tells you, when you go in for the first time to open an account for your child, that an account with your child's Social Security number already has been opened.

-- Your health insurer says it won't cover a procedure for your child because it covered that procedure before (even though your child never had that procedure).

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