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When it comes to identity theft, the most successful attack is on the person least likely to be aware of activity being carried out in his or her name. That being the case, it is hard to imagine anyone who better fits the bill than a child. From the moment a child’s social security number is first issued, that information becomes a tempting target for thieves.
Why is children’s ID theft different?
Gathering data about the scope of this crime against children is inherently difficult. Quite often, evidence of the crime is discovered only after the victims are in their teens or twenties, which can also make it much more difficult to rectify. However, figures from a variety of surveys would seem to indicate that ID theft from children is a very prevalent and yet very underreported occurrence. And there is a far higher likelihood of the theft being carried out by people close to the child, even by his or her own family members, than in other age groups. This means that it is less likely that the event will have been reported to law enforcement officials than ID theft carried by strangers.
One might think that this sort of crime would be rare, due to the fact that it would seem obvious that someone under a certain age is unlikely to (say) buy a house or a car, or apply for a credit card or other loan. But apparently an applicant’s age is not something that all credit agencies currently verify. The ostensible ages of the persons applying for credit are established at the moment their credit histories begin: This means that if a thief applies for credit using a child’s Social Security Number (SSN) listing the age as 24, a credit history will be created that shows that age, regardless of the true age of the person who actually owns that SSN.
ID theft indicators
If you are the parent or guardian of a child, you may be wondering how you would know that your child’s identity has been stolen. There are a variety of situations in which you or your child might be alerted to this possibility, including:
If you are just looking to see if fraud has occurred, it is best to check with the three credit reporting agencies. You can do this at no cost once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the source authorized by the Federal Trade Commission.
Protecting and correcting after fraud
If there has been fraudulent activity using your child’s identity, you may wish to protect your child’s credit by placing a freeze on your minor’s credit file. If there is no file yet for your child, there is no reason to create a file and lock it – in fact; it may be quite difficult to do so.
The Federal Trade Commission has a great website with tips for what steps are needed to repair the damage after identity theft, specific to minors. The steps are quite similar to what you would do after the theft of an adult’s identity, with the added step of proving the child’s age to the credit reporting agencies to help deter future fraud.
Criminals are fond of preying on those who are least able to defend themselves, and children certainly meet their targeting criteria. The best thing you can do to help protect your children’s identities is to be judicious with their personally identifying information, much as you would protect their online reputations by limiting the audience when you post their pictures online. This way, they can start out life on their own with reasonably clean digital slates.
Author Lysa Myers, ESET