Understanding the Risk to Your Child’s Identity
Most victims of identity theft are chosen because they are convenient targets and some may have even unknowingly made themselves more venerable to this crime. It’s a crime that that feels particularly personal – but it’s even worse when your child is the victim and suffers as a result. How prevalent is this problem, how does it impact families, and what can you do to protect your children?
Quick Facts About Child ID Theft
- According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 19,500 minors in the U.S. were victims of idenity theft in 2011.
- In 2011, Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study involving identity scans for over 40,000 children. More than 10% of these minors had someone else using their social security number.
Who Steals a Child’s Identity?
Social Security numbers are frequently used for obtaining employment. When this is the case, the theft sometimes occurs before a child is born. An undocumented worker might obtain a fake SS card with a random number that is later assigned to an infant by the Social Security Administration. Organized crime perpetrates child ID theft on a massive scale to get away with various types of financial fraud with little fear of detection. Sadly, relatives of the child are the third main group of offenders. They may apply for utilities, credit cards, or even home loans using a child’s clean credit history.
How ID Theft Hurts Families
In the well-publicized case of Olivia McNamara, thieves used her identity to open more than 40 accounts and run up 1.5 million dollars in debt. Olivia first found out as a teen when she was rejected for a student credit card – but the trail of fraudulent activity had begun when she was only nine!
Parents report spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars attempting to clear their child’s identity of erroneous activity, usually with only grudging assistance from credit agencies and law enforcement. Child victims of ID theft face a great deal of uncertainty in their ability to go to college, get a job, rent an apartment, or become financially independent in any way.
Delayed Detection Boosts Risk of Harm
Unlike adult identity theft which is typically uncovered within a couple of months, most parents don’t discover that a minor’s identity has been compromised until many years after the fact. During that time, a fraudulent user has free reign to use the stolen identity to:
- Rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt
- Leave a mortgage in foreclosure
- Buy firearms or vehicles
- Acquire a drivers’ license
- Get a job (and fail to pay taxes)
- Commit crimes under their false identity
Child Identity Theft Protection Resources
With so much at stake, what can parents do to keep their children safe? There are identity theft protection services that offer some assistance. However, it’s important to understand that they cannot prevent ID theft. What these companies may do is mitigate the damage through monitoring and early detection or by helping families resolve disputes. Consumer Federation of America can help you sort through the hype and determine if these services are worth the money.
The older the child, the more likely they are to have a tainted SS record, indicating that the risk may be cumulative year over year. Kids and teens should be taught how to use social networking and other online sites safely, without divulging information such as their birth date or other personal identifiers. The FTC has a brochure full of useful advice for parents. Teens can take greater responsibility for protecting their identity with tips from the National Crime Prevention Council.
What about credit history checks? Parents who believe their child may be the victim of identity theft can contact credit bureaus to check for signs of illegal activity (this won’t catch many types of SS# fraud, but it is a start). Checking in on a child’s credit history every few years just for peace of mind doesn’t hurt either. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides forms, addresses, and instructions. Teens should begin checking their credit history for free regularly starting at age 16. This provides a little bit of breathing room to correct inaccuracies and battle fraud before it’s time to be financially independent or apply for an educational loan.
More Effective Solutions Are Needed
It will take a concerted effort between financial institutions, the Social Security Administration, lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, credit bureaus, employers, and businesses to curtail the rash of identity theft being perpetrated against children in this country. Unfortunately, for the time being parents bear most of this burden alone. Those who are vigilant in minimizing known risks, monitoring their child’s ID for activity, and taking prompt action to correct any errors or fraud are in the best position to protect their family’s future.
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