They sound like common cases of identity theft: One person suddenly discovers $750,000 in credit card debt; another is charged for speeding tickets when she’s never been pulled over. But, there’s a puzzling twist to these stories: the victims are children. And the results can seriously hurt their credit scores.
Coming After Our Kids
A study by the ID Analytics Lab recently concluded that as many as 140,000 individuals under the age of 18 in the U.S. are victims of identity theft every year. Committers of identity fraud target minors more often because kids have clean records, and parents are unlikely to check their children’s credit history. As a result, identity theft can go undiscovered for a long time. Usually, victims of child identity theft don’t realize their identities have been stolen until they are of age to apply for a credit card or take out a loan, at which point they find out that the crime has hurt their credit scores--and their ability to take out credit.
A Clean Slate for the Taking
Since young children have fresh Social Security Numbers, fraudsters can easily tie the numbers to different birth dates and addresses, making ID theft even more difficult to track. The ID Analytics Lab found that in 60% of child identity theft cases, fraudulent use came from credit card or wireless activity. But in some rare cases, the child’s identity is stolen by an immediate family member. In the case of the speeding tickets, it was the child’s father who had been abusing his son’s Social Security Number. Cases like these are particularly sticky and hard to control because kids are often hesitant to accuse Mom or Dad of a crime.
What Can You Do?
Detecting child identity theft is especially difficult, as checking a child’s credit report has only been successful in catching fraudulent activity in 1% of cases. If you’re a parent, though, there are ways to help protect your children:
- Watch out for warnings signs, such as mail addressed to your child that seems to be adult-oriented.
- Be careful every time you give out a child’s Social Security Number. Make sure you know why it needs to be used, who will have access to it, and whether it will be disposed of afterward.
- Talk to your kids about online safety when giving out personal information and using social media. A child’s information should be just as carefully protected as an adult’s.
- And find out if you yourself are at risk for identity theft and how you can protect yourself here.