Children are just as vulnerable to identity theft as adults, but they don’t have access to the same system of checks and alerts. By falsifying birth dates, thieves can use your child’s Social Security number to open credit cards, take out loans, apply for government benefits, and more.

When it’s done to a child, identity theft can go unnoticed for years. And once your child is applying for a first loan or credit card, submitting a renter’s application, or undergoing a background check for employment, they may discover that their credit has already been wrecked.

Here’s how to protect your kids from identity theft (and what to do if they may already be a victim).

Keep Their Personal Information Safe

The primary way for a thief to steal a child’s identity is with a Social Security number. Unfortunately, many creditors and organizations don’t verify the age of their applicants, and they may assume that the person on the application is actually of legal age.

To protect your child from identity theft, you should keep their Social Security number and other identifying information safe. Here’s how:

• Only share your child’s Social Security number and identifying information with trustworthy organizations for official purposes, such as school registration. Whenever you do submit personal information, ask how the organization will protect it.
• When you receive a call or email requesting information about your child, don’t assume it is legitimate. It could be someone impersonating a group or person you know.
• Shred or destroy any documents with your child’s identifying information before you throw them away.
• Monitor your child’s internet activity, and teach them not to share sensitive information online.

Look Out for Warning Signs

Don’t wait for your kid’s first credit card application to be rejected before you realize something is amiss. There are many warning signs that your child may be a victim of identity theft:

• Your child is denied a bank account.
• Your child receives credit card or loan offers in the mail.
• Your child is receiving bills or you’re fielding calls from debt collectors.
• You have been turned down for government benefits because your child’s Social Security number is already being used.

While junk mail in your child’s name isn’t necessarily a reason for alarm, it’s always best to watch for these warning signs and take further action when necessary.

What to Do If You Suspect Identity Theft

If you do suspect your child may be a victim of identity theft, you should check with the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and Transunion – to see if they have a credit report in your child’s name. Even if you don’t suspect fraud, it’s a good idea to do this by the time your child turns 16.

The credit bureaus will require information to verify that you are the legal guardian. If there is no credit report on file, your child’s credit is safe. If there is, you will need to check both the birth date listed and any activity included in the reports.

If your child was a victim of identity theft, you’ll need to contact each credit bureau and ask them to remove all accounts, inquiries, and collection notices from the report. You’ll also need to have them correct your child’s birth date and place a fraud alert on file. Depending on the state in which you live, you may be able to put a credit freeze on the report, which will prevent thieves from applying for credit while you deal with the fallout.

You’ll also want to contact the businesses where your child’s information was used, and let them know the accounts are fraudulent. Finally, you’ll need to file a police report and lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.