MADISON, Wis. - Parents have enough to worry about when it comes to their kids without thinking about stolen social security numbers and out of control credit scores.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection hasn't heard any reports of identity thieves targeting children in Wisconsin, and the organization wants to keep it that way.
"It typically isn't caught for many years, and by that time a lot of damage can be done," DATCP administrator Sandy Chalmers said.
Chalmers said not only do these thefts go undetected for years, but the criminals know they are stealing an identity without a pre-existing credit report. That makes it easier to fraudulently open credit accounts, start a mortgage, take out loans, file a tax return or even apply for a job under that social security number.
"We've heard reports of children, a 9-year-old child, who has a home in foreclosure without even knowing about it," Chalmers said.
Chalmers said unfortunately, families don't usually find out until their tots become teens.
"What may happen is a child is going to file their taxes for the first time when they get a first job at age 16 and find that a tax return has already been filed using their social security number," Chalmers said. "Or they try to get a credit card to establish a credit history, and they're turned down because they have delinquent files on their credit history."
Seeing the nationwide trends, Chalmers said a new law makes Wisconsin one of the few states where parents can prevent this kind of crime, instead of reacting to a bad situation involving their children.
Chalmers said for $10 parents can create a credit report for their child through any of the major credit bureaus and freeze that report until their son or daughter is ready to build up a score.
"It's so important that they understand that there's something proactive that they can do here," Chalmers said. "They have a right under Wisconsin law that not many other parents have in other states in the country."
Chalmers said parents should seriously consider putting a freeze on their children's credit report. She also said families should ask questions before willingly giving out their child's social security number and monitor a kid's social media use for any personal information on the Internet.