There seems to be no shortage of valuable information about “adult” identity theft, including a vast amount of crime statistics and prevention advice, yet such information about ID thieves targeting children — though at times equally damaging to the victim and often taking much longer to resolve — has received much less of the spotlight.
What makes child ID theft uniquely problematic is its tendency to be underreported to law enforcement and difficult to investigate when detected, due to: 1) the frequency with which family members and friends are the ones committing the crime, and 2) detection often not occurring until years later.
Each year, 500,000 children under 18 are victimized by identity thieves, according to the Federal Trade Commission — facilitated by clean credit records that parents rarely think of monitoring, and the fact that personal identification information is more easily available to close family and friends.
“Child identity predators are drawn to the fact that their victims’ Social Security numbers are unused — they’re like blank slates,” said Matt Cullina, CEO of Identity Theft 911. “Since children can’t legally apply for credit, thieves know that their Social Security numbers are unlikely to be associated with fraud or bad credit. That makes them attractive to fraudsters who have credit problems or who can’t legally use Social Security numbers of their own to apply for jobs, government benefits, or other services.”
In the 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report, sponsored by the non-profit Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), researchers found that:
- 2.5% of U.S. households — one in forty — with children under 18 experienced child ID theft at some point during the child’s lifetime.
- More than one in four victims (27%) reported knowing the perpetrator of the crime.
- 50% of households of child identity theft victims had incomes under $35,000, while only 10% had incomes exceeding $100,000 — indicating that low income families are more likely to be impacted by child ID theft.
Checking Your Child’s Credit Report
Evidence of child ID theft often surfaces when the child later applies for a driver’s license, a job or college and is denied, or the validity of the SSN comes into question. Sometimes, the victims even receive a call from a collection agency for an unpaid debt incurred using the child’s identification. As a consequence of late detection and reluctance to prosecute a relative or family friend for these crimes, 17% of the children cited in the ITAC study were victimized for a year or longer.
The first thing a parent should do when concerned about a child’s personal information being compromised — or as a precautionary practice prior to a teen getting her driver’s license or first job — is to obtain and review the child’s credit reports from the three national consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Be ready to provide each credit reporting agency with your child’s complete name, address, date of birth and a copy of the child’s birth certificate and Social Security card. You will also be required to provide a copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued proof of your identity that includes your current address, and a current utility bill containing your current address.
Don’t be surprised if there are no credit reports on file for your child. This simply means that there has been no credit reported using your child’s identification, and can be considered a good sign. If you find suspicious information, however, you should close any open accounts, place an extended fraud alert or credit freeze on the credit file, and file a police report in the community where the theft took place. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Guarding Your Child’s Info
Here are some protective steps you can take to maintain safety for your child’s information, as well as your own:
- Making sure holders of your child’s personal information — school, medical provider — employ secure procedures for storing this data.
- Storing the child’s information in a secure place at home, and not on a computer or mobile phone; not carrying the child’s Social Security card with you; and never providing it via email or other non-secure online transmission.
- Teaching your child to avoid sharing personal identification information on social networking sites or elsewhere.