March 11, 2019
Jennifer Leach, FTC, Acting Associate Director, Division of Consumer & Business Education
Desmond Brown, CFPB, Deputy Assistant Director, Office of Community Affairs
Young people now have more protection from identity theft and fraud, thanks to a new federal law that went into effect September 21st, 2018. The new law lets parents and child welfare representatives of people under 16, as well as legal guardians, request a security freeze, also called a credit freeze, on their behalf. Taking this step can help protect a young person from identity theft and fraud – and it’s free.
Identity theft happens when someone misuses your personal information, such as a Social Security number, to open accounts, file taxes, or make purchases. Hackers, thieves, and even people you know might steal your identity. Minors typically don’t have credit reports, which means that a young person may not find out about issues with their credit reports until they first try to get credit – perhaps even years later.
While a security freeze won’t affect anything already on your credit report, it restricts access to your report. That makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts using your personal information. With the new law, it’s free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file at the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To find contact information for placing a free credit freeze, visit IdentityTheft.gov/credit bureau contacts.
The new law also lets people like parents, guardians, and representatives acting on behalf of a young person in foster care proactively protect a young person’s credit file by freezing it.
If the nationwide credit reporting agencies don’t have a file on the child, they will create one so they can freeze it. This record can’t be used for credit purposes. It’s there just to make sure the child’s record is frozen and protected against identity theft and fraud.
Depending on the adult’s relationship to the child, there are different procedures to put a freeze in place. Parents need to show proof of their authority, like a birth certificate, to freeze or unfreeze the credit file for their child under 16. The new law says that child welfare or probation agency representatives acting on behalf of a young person in foster care can request a security freeze for that child. They have to show documentation certifying that the child is in the agency’s care, such as a written communication or an official letter from the child welfare or probation agency or its designee. Child welfare agencies who already work with consumer reporting agencies to pull and review credit reports for youth in their care can use the same company contacts and liaisons to facilitate the security freeze process.
For more information about security freezes for children in foster care settings, read the CFPB’s guidance. For more information about child identity theft, read the FTC’s Child Identity Theft: What to Know, What to Do and online Child Identity Theft article And check out our joint blog to learn about how the new credit law affects adults who have a guardian or conservator.