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As readers know, I'm a huge advocate of anything that helps to stop identity theft. One of the most atrocious scams ever is to target the Social Security number of infants and children. In fact, this most vulnerable segment of our population is a prime target; statistics show that one in 10 kids has a Social Security number used by another person before that child became an adult. Granted, this other person could be a parent, but this isn't always the case.

I've heard a number of times over the past couple of weeks that because of the Coronavirus scare shutting down everything from music events to movies to planes and cruise ships, among other sites, opinion seems to be that nine-month factor. Yep, when "entertainment" begins at home within a specific period of time, we can bet LOTS of babies will show their little faces in nine months. Because of this influx, it's more urgent than ever to protect these precious ones in all ways, particularly regarding their issued-at-birth Social Security numbers. If we ignore this advice, all kinds of lawbreakers may use the number in all kinds of criminal ways for many years with no one the wiser until said child applies for a home loan.

Vulnerability is the key element. Kids' private info is stored for all to see in school files, doctors' offices, and so forth, with no cyber security to protect these important numbers. Obviously, children don't apply for credit cards or a home mortgage, so no one is the wiser if their identity has been stolen until they become adults and need this information for transactions. Too bad that in many cases, their alleged credit history is false, but there isn't a whole lot to be done to rectify this problem, especially following many years of unsuspecting adults. An age later, Terry Thief could by then have racked up years and years of debt using an innocent child's Social Security number.

So how can you make sure this form of your child's ID hasn't been stolen? Contact the three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax (1-800-685-1111), Experian (1-888-397-3742), and TransUnion (1-800-680-7289). File a child-identity inquiry; if the results are okay, then the little one's ID is also okay. (Repeat the process at least once yearly.)

However, on the other hand, if the worse occurs and the kiddie has been attacked, it's imperative to take the appropriate steps and fast. First, verify his or her status as a minor; use a birth certificate and send it with a letter to each agency asking to remove every account and collection notice that's associated with any account. Then, place a freeze (which can cost up to $10), as well as a 90-day fraud alert. By doing so, this prevents any potential creditors from requesting Kathy Kiddie's credit report while it's being corrected. And finally, don't forget a most important step: report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov/complaint, as well as to your local law enforcement. By taking all these steps, the errors should be expunged.

Tax Tip: For several years, Americans without health insurance have faced a penalty of up to 2.5 percent of a household's taxable income. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 reduced that penalty to zero for 2019 if readers were uninsured for last year.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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Ellen Phillips
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