Child Identity Theft
A recent report indicates children are increasingly at risk of identity theft — and such crimes can go unnoticed for years. Child identity theft occurs when a child’s identity is used by another person for the imposter’s personal gain. The perpetrator may be a family member or someone known by the family. It could also be a stranger who purposely targets children because of the lengthy time between the theft of the information and the discovery of the crime. “Children make tempting targets because they aren’t going to be using their identities for a long time and parents don’t usually monitor their identities”, wrote report author Richard Power, of Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab cybersecurity research center.
The report showed 4,311 of the 42,232 children or 10.2% had their Social Security number stolen and used by someone else, with the youngest victim only 5 months old. This is 51 times more frequent than the 0.2% of adults targeted for identity theft. Examples of stolen identity cited in the report are startling. In one case, a 17-year-old Arizona girl found herself $725,000 in debt, with 42 open accounts including mortgages, car loans and credit cards. Her Social Security number was linked to eight suspects. In another, a 14-year-old Kentucky boy was found to have a credit report that went back 10 years that included a foreclosed mortgage.
“Although the data’s statistical significance is yet to be determined, it is certainly profoundly significant on a practical, human level to the thousands of children and families who have thus been victimized,” Power wrote in the report. “Furthermore, from my perspective, having tracked the evolution of cyber crime over two decades, it is only common sense to surmise that the problem goes beyond those breached accounts included in this report, and that there are many thousands more children and their families at risk.”
Identity theft was the top reported crime in the United States in 2010, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. That online database combines consumer complaints from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureaus and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, among others. Of the 1.3 million complaints in 2010, identity theft represented 19%. Child identity theft is part of a growing number of scams and is among the fastest growing segments of ID theft.
Discovering an Issue with your Child’s Identity
Parents or relatives of child/victims are usually the first to notice something abnormal, usually when attempting some type of transaction involving the child’s identity. Some of these cases involve split families (one of the parents is the perpetrator, and the crime is exposed by the other, innocent parent). Exposure often comes:
- When attempting to open a savings account or college fund for the child. In this scenario, an innocent parent discovers that there is already an account with that SSN or that the new account is denied due to a bad check record.
- When numerous credit cards, checks, pre-approved credit card offers, bills, or bank statements are received in the name of the child
- When collection agencies call or send letters about accounts not opened by the child
- When a teenager is denied the right to get a driver’s license because another person has a license with that SSN as ID. The imposter may even have accumulated tickets or citations in the child’s name
- While going through papers during a divorce or otherwise discovering documents in the child’s name (Parental identity theft)
- When law enforcement comes to the door with a warrant for an arrest of the child
Adults who were victimized as children typically find out in the same manner as adult victims of identity theft, when they:
- Are denied credit, mortgage or loan for a vehicle or college tuition
- Are unable to open a bank or checking account
- Receive collection notices in the mail or by telephone
- Are denied tenancy, utility, or phone service
- Are denied driver’s license renewal
- Are discharged from a job or continually and unexplainably denied employment
- Have been receiving bills or credit cards they never requested, perhaps for years
- Are arrested for an activity they never committed
- Are denied SSI or welfare services
What can parents do to protect their children’s identity?
- Never carry your child’s Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
- Educate your children to not give out their Social Security numbers.
- Educate your children about what is appropriate to share on social networks, how to restrict access to their information etc. Social networks represent a treasure trove for criminals bent on identity theft and other types of scams.
- If the child is old enough to apply for a job where their employer requests their Social Security number, make sure the position is with a legitimate company. Be wary of dubious work at home opportunities or something on “Craigslist”, etc.
- Parents should inquire if they need to give their child’s complete Social Security number to youth sports organizations or other extra-curricular clubs. Unfortunately, there have been cases where such organizations have not properly secured such information or where the employees themselves have been involved in scams.
- If you set up a bank account for your child, check it to make sure it has no overdraft protection and ensure it is just a savings account.
What should I do if I discover an issue with my child’s identity?
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has a wealth of resources devoted to this topic. Below is a list of recommended steps:
- Follow the procedures on ITRC Fact Sheet 120A, Ordering a Child’s Credit Report. Report the crime to the police, and contact the credit issuers to clear your child’s records. Even if there is no credit report, there is a possibility that something might show up later. Check reports again when the child is 16.
- You will need a copy of the child’s birth certificate for most requests
- Only speak with fraud investigators when contacting credit issuers or collection agencies
- For accounts that have gone to collection, use ITRC Fact Sheet 116, Collection Agencies and Identity Theft, designed to help you in that situation. Point out that the child is a minor and that by law is not permitted to enter into a contract.
- Ask to have all accounts, application inquiries and collection notices removed immediately from your child’s credit report. You can do this via the credit issuer or through a dispute process with the credit reporting agencies. ITRC recommends that you make the request of both groups. In the end, the credit issuer is the final decision maker as to whether to accept the claim of fraud or not.
- Request copies of all application and transaction records. Make copies and provide those to the police investigating the case. They may help you discover how this crime occurred.
For more information
- CyLab Report on Child Identity Theft
- FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2013
- Identity Theft Research Center