Cyber-security experts are urging parents to check the credit reports of their children, following the massive data breach at credit firm Equifax.
“This breach was so pervasive that everyone from children, all walks of life, every type of profession, even heads of state had their information stolen,” said Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security Inc.
Equifax announced more than 145 million Americans may have had sensitive, private information exposed in the hack. The potential breach includes names, social security numbers, addresses and dates of birth.
Since the September announcement of the cybersecurity incident, families have been checking Equifax’s online vulnerability tool to determine if their information may be compromised.
For the Bailey family of five, both parents found they may be impacted, along with their 7-year-old son Seamus.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said mom Susan Bailey. “We just randomly figured we would put everyone’s (information) in there to just see if our kids had been breached at all – never thinking that would happen.”
The site indicated Bailey’s two older sons, ages 11 and 13, were not part of the breach, according to Bailey.
“Someone could be using (Seamus’) information and doing whatever they want with it until possibly he turns 18…maybe he’ll try to get a credit card, maybe we’ll try to get a car and then we find out someone has been using his identity for years,” Bailey said.
Bailey said when her family alerted Equifax to the issue, a spokesperson told her that while the company was offering free services to adults, it did not have any relief for minors.
Equifax did not return NBC 5 Investigates’ repeated requests for comment. On its website, Equifax states it “does not typically have information associated with minors.” However, that does not explain why Seamus’ information was flagged in the potential breach.
Bailey said her husband submitted a complaint and received an email response from Equifax’s Customer Care Team that requested the family provide a letter and copies of the child’s social security number and birth certificate so the company can conduct an investigation. The Baileys said they did not disclose this information to Equifax.
According to cybersecurity experts, one reason why malicious hackers target children is because they know no one is regularly checking credit reports. Children don’t have lines of credit open in their name, but their names and social security numbers are shared for a myriad of reasons – school and sports registration, doctors’ offices, passports. Experts said those could be areas of weaknesses.
“With the Equifax breach, once (the hackers) have first name, last name, date of birth, address, social security number, they bank that and when a child hits legal age, they will now apply for lines of credit, credit cards, loans, vehicle loans, the list goes on and on,” Guccione said. “They bank children’s information and use it at a later time.”
Guccione said parents should consider putting a freeze on their children’s credit. A freeze keeps credit bureaus from releasing credit reports, which would prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts or lines of credit in the child’s name.
Unlike in several states, parents in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana can request credit freezes for their minor children.
Consumers must contact the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – individually to request the freeze. In Illinois and Wisconsin, there are charges to freeze and thaw a credit report. There are no charges to consumers in Indiana.
For more information on how to request credit freezes, visit these links: