HONOLULU - Parents want to keep their children safe. But have you considered protecting their identity?

The state's consumer protection division urges you to freeze your child's credit report. And as of July 1, a new state law lets people do that for free. Hawaii residents, including children under age 16, are no longer required to pay for security freezes.

Act 22, signed by Governor David Ige on June 6, 2018, is meant to enhance consumer protection in Hawaii by enabling Hawaii residents to request consumer reporting agencies, such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to place, lift, or remove a security freeze on their credit report for free. Under previous Hawaii law, consumer reporting agencies could charge consumers a fee of $5 each time they freeze, lift, and unfreeze their credit report.

A child this young isn't applying for credit for a mortgage, a bank loan, or a credit card. But a thief who's stolen her identity, could. To guard against that, her parents can freeze her credit now.
 
Stephen Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection at the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, encourages, "It's something people should strongly consider; freezing credit for their children. Children can also be victimized."


Levins says it can be years before kids discover their identity has been stolen, and their credit, ruined. "Someone goes to college for the first time. That's generally when people get a credit card for the first time, when they go away to college. Then they're denied for bad credit."


To freeze your child's credit, contact the three credit reporting agencies directly. Ask them to create a credit report, then immediately freeze it.

If your child's identity is ever stolen, thieves can't open a credit line. Levins explains, "They're not going to be able to take out a credit card or apply for loans or other things on credit because the credit report will be frozen." The major benefit of a security freeze is that it restricts access to a consumer’s credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in the consumer’s name.
 
You can start as soon as your child is born. The moment you have a social security number, you can open a credit report. "As soon as you have a social security number, that can dictate a lot. It goes with you the rest of your life."


Don't presume the child's young age will draw red flags from loan agencies. Much of the processing is done by computer, says Levins, adding, "You've heard situations about people that get credit cards for their cat or dog."
 
Levins says child identity theft isn't a huge problem in Hawaii, but now that it's free to freeze credit, why not take one more measure to keep your kids safe?

Additionally, effective in September 2018, a new federal law, The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act will extend the right to obtain a free credit freeze to the rest of the country.

The Office of Consumer Protection also recommends consumers do the following to protect themselves from identity theft:

Regularly request their free credit reports, inspect them closely, and promptly dispute any unauthorized accounts;

Inspect all financial account statements closely and promptly dispute any unauthorized charges;

Consider placing alerts on their financial accounts so their financial institution alerts them when money above a pre-designated amount is withdrawn;

Beware of potential phishing emails; don’t open email messages or attachments from unknown senders and do not click on any unknown links. Fraudsters will frequently send coercive and misleading emails threatening account suspension or worse if sensitive information is not provided.  Remember, businesses will never ask customers to verify account information via email.  If in doubt, contact the business in question directly for verification and to report phishing emails; and

Be on the lookout for spoofed email address.  Spoofed email addresses are those that make minor changes in the domain name, frequently the letter O to the number zero, or lowercase letter I to the number one.  Scrutinize all incoming email addresses to ensure that the sender is truly legitimate.