For most U.S. citizens, an official birth certificate may be the most critical document to have in their possession. Birth certificates back up your identity using your name, date of birth, place of birth, your sex/gender as recorded at birth and the identity of your parents.

They’re commonly referred to as “breeder documents” because they can be used to facilitate the acquisition of other official identity documents, including driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs, passports and marriage licenses.

Birth certificates also can be used to enroll yourself or your children in school, join the military, prove your identity when you start a job with a new employer, claim government pension and insurance benefits and more.

Typically, birth certificates issued by the state are certified with a unique embossed seal and a signature to prove their authenticity. Therefore, when birth certificates are required to show proof of identity, they must be certified copies that contain these unique signifiers.

Because birth certificates are so closely linked to your identity, protecting them from identity theft is essential. Criminals can use the personal information on your birth certificate to help them assume your identity and commit different types of identity fraud.

What Can Someone Do with Your Birth Certificate?

The information on your birth certificate includes personally identifiable information (PII) that many institutions and companies must verify. Official certified copies of your birth certificate can be used to create other official identity-related documents. Some of the things an identity thief can do with the information on your birth certificate can include:

Obtain Government Documents

Birth certificates can be used to obtain driver’s licenses, passports or Social Security cards. Therefore, they’re essential to protect, as their “breeder document” status makes them especially vulnerable to criminal exploitation.

Use as Identity Verification

Identity thieves can use your birth certificate to “verify” your identity with certain websites, businesses, or government agencies.

Open Fraudulent Accounts

The information in your birth certificate can be used to apply for credit cards, take out loans or open other accounts in your name.

This type of identity theft often requires other types of PII, such as your Social Security number, but having the information on your birth certificate gets identity thieves one step closer.

Access Your Financial Accounts

It’s probably not possible for a criminal to use your birth certificate alone to get into your bank account. But your birth certificate does contain important information, like your birth date, that financial institutions often use to verify identity. Furnished with that information and other data like your bank account and account number, identity thieves can try to access your accounts.

Access Personal Accounts

Criminals can try to use your birth certificate to hack your online accounts, like your emails or social media. These websites often ask security questions, including your mother’s maiden name and your date of birth.

Create Fake Social Media Profiles

Identity thieves can use your birth certificate to create realistic social media profiles because they have your full name, birth date and place of birth. Criminals use fake social media profiles to scam other users, including friends and family of the victim.

How to Protect Your Birth Certificate

Don’t carry your birth certificate around with you. Just like your Social Security card and other sensitive documents, you should only carry your birth certificate on your person in public when you have a good reason (such as taking it to the courthouse to get a marriage license).

Your important documents shouldn’t just be stored in a random drawer. Instead, you can keep them in a safe hidden away from view in a less visible part of your home.

Locked home safes can prevent theft; some are flame and water resistant to protect your documents from fire or flooding. Another option is to keep your identification documents in a safe deposit box at your bank or local post office.

What to Do If Your Birth Certificate is Lost or Stolen?

Whether you simply misplaced your birth certificate or believe it was stolen, you need to contact the right people. If you know it was stolen, you can report the theft to the local police, your local Vital Records office and the federal government at Filing a report on loss or theft of your birth certificate creates proof and a paper trail in case anyone uses it to commit identity theft.

You can request a replacement birth certificate online or by mail by contacting your local Vital Records office. If you reside in a state other than the one you were born in, you can complete the request online or over the phone.

You must show proof of identity, including a passport, state-issued ID, or driver’s license. In addition, you may need to provide supplemental information, including your full name, your parents’ name, your date of birth, city of birth, the hospital where you were born and your sex recorded at birth.

Consider signing up for an identity theft protection service  to help protect yourself. Protection plans include real-time monitoring and fast alerts if someone has opened a new line of credit in your name using the information on your birth certificate.

If a new account, credit application, delinquent account or other inaccurate information hits your credit report, it’s a possible sign of identity theft, and you need to contact the credit bureaus. When this happens, these services assign you a restoration specialist to help protect against fraud.

Identity thieves may also try to sell your birth certificate or the information on it over the dark web, a sector of the internet that allows users to anonymously access online black markets, where they can purchase the PII of unsuspecting victims.

Identity theft protection services provide dark web monitoring to look for your name, address, SSN and information that would be included on your birth certificate to ensure you know if your PII goes up for sale online.