July 15, 2018
Every week, Simply Money’s Nathan Bachrach, Ed Finke and Amy Wagner are answering your financial questions in The Cincinnati Enquirer. If you, a friend, or someone in your family has a money issue or problem, please feel free to send those questions to email@example.com
Dennis: My 6-year-old is starting to get pre-approved credit offers in the mail. Is this a sign someone’s stolen his identity? If so, what should I do?
Answer: Unfortunately, yes, this is a sign someone has stolen your child’s Social Security number to use as their own. And it’s a pervasive crime: more than one million U.S. children became identity theft victims in 2017, and two-thirds of those victims were younger than 8-years-old, according to a new study by Javelin Strategy & Research.
As cruel as it seems, children are easy targets for scammers. After all, most toddlers and pre-teens aren’t monitoring their credit reports. So if a thief can steal a child’s information at, say, 8-years-old, they would have 10 years before that child turns 18 – an age when it starts to become common for lenders, landlords, and even employers to run credit checks. It’s not until that time that the previously unknown theft comes to light, but by then, the damage is done.
Perhaps even more surprising? The same Javelin study found that 60 percent of children who become identity theft victims know the person who steals their information. The thief is commonly a family member or friend-of-the-family who has easy access to the child’s personal information.
The good news is that Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana all allow a parent or guardian to place a freeze on a minor’s credit report in two different scenarios: if they’re a credit freeze victim or as a pro-active measure. In your case, since it sounds like your child is a victim, do this now. Go to all three credit bureaus’ websites (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) to start the process. This essentially “locks down” your child’s credit information so no new accounts can be created. You should also file a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC’s website also has more detailed action steps to take.
Here’s The Simply Money Point: Children are extremely vulnerable to identity theft. If you have guardianship of any minors, help protect their personal information by placing a freeze on their credit sooner rather than later.
Shelley in Fort Mitchell: Any suggestions for how to get my 84-year-old father to actually talk to me about his financial situation? He’s a very private man, and I’m afraid he’ll see my questioning as being too nosy. I just want to make sure he’s doing OK.
Answer: We’re not sure if this will make you feel any better, but you’re not alone. We know many people (even some of our clients) who have faced huge challenges trying to get their parents to open up about such a sensitive topic. The key, as strange as it sounds, is to not make the conversation about them – at least to start.
What do we mean by this? Try initiating the conversation by talking about your own situation, then asking for your father’s advice or his opinion. For instance, “I just had a meeting with my financial advisor last week, and she and I talked about what kind of lifestyle and budget I want in retirement. What’s your experience been like?” Or, “ I’m nervous about running out of money in retirement. Have you ever felt this way?” Ask any sort of question that will get him to open up on his own terms.
If you want to use a more direct approach, just be sure you’re always coming at it from a place of love and concern. Saying, “Dad, I love you and I’m concerned about your well-being. Is everything OK? Can I help you with any of your finances?” is better than saying, “Dad, how’s your money situation?”
Another option is to take yourself out of the picture. Because, like it or not, even though you’re a grown adult, your father might still see you as his “little girl,” making it difficult to discuss serious issues. This is when a third party, such as a trusted financial planner, can help. He might feel more comfortable opening up to a professional.
Here’s The Simply Money Point: This isn’t a one-and-done situation. You should try to have ongoing conversations with your father about his situation, no matter how brief the discussion. Hopefully this will get easier with each encounter. Yes, it will take a lot of patience, but in the end, your family will be stronger and much better prepared for financial surprises.
Responses are for informational purposes only and individuals should consider whether any general recommendation in these responses are suitable for their particular circumstances based on investment objectives, financial situation and needs. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing, including a tax advisor and/or attorney. Nathan Bachrach and Ed Finke and their team offer financial planning services through Simply Money Advisors, a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Call (513) 469-7500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.