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Child identity theft a growing trend

An emerging crime trend impacting families today — and children tomorrow.

By Rich_Maloof Feb 21, 2013 9:22PM

Last year, a tearful teen was seen on TV describing how she and three other juveniles were victimized by child identity theft. This Midwest teenager owed $750,000 for homes and automobiles that someone else had purchased in her name.

Photo: Child identity theft / George Diebold/Getty ImagesThe theft of her information had occurred when she was 3 years old.

The crime is called child identity theft, and it’s a growing problem. An estimated one in every 40 households with young children is currently being impacted, ringing the alarm bell on a new need to prioritize and protect the sensitive information of every family member.

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“Children are at 51 times greater risk of being targeted for identity theft than are adults, according to Carnegie Mellon University CyLab,”  says Robert P. Chappell, Jr., a veteran of law enforcement and of the Armed Forces. Struck by the number of fraud cases involving child identity scams he was fielding after a tour of duty overseas, Chappell recently authored “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs To Know.”

“Children are targeted because criminals have learned that a child’s personal information is of value,” Chappell explains. “This personal information consists of their name, date of birth and Social Security number. Criminals understand that by stealing a child’s information they have a longer period to abuse the identity before being discovered.”

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Identity thieves use other people’s information to open credit cards and bank accounts, apply for loans, get government benefits and run up obscene amounts of debt — and can escape all debtors because their own identity is masked. Kids make ideal targets because the have completely clean credit records, if any credit file at all.

Since it’s a crime of identity and not directly of cash or goods, families of every income level are susceptible. A 2012 report published by the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) indicated that lower-income households were disproportionately affected, with 50 percent of all child identity thefts affecting those with household incomes under $35,000, though a full 10 percent with incomes over $100,000 were affected as well. Disturbingly, “friendly fraud” — identity theft committed by a family member or friend — was to blame in 27 percent of reported cases.

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Child identity fraud is hard to detect and difficult to resolve. According to the ITAC, the mean detection time for child ID frauds is nearly a year, while detection time for adult cases is under two months. A major concern is that the theft of a child’s identity can go undetected for years, not coming to light until the victim applies for his or her first job or tries to rent a first apartment — at which point the victim learns he or she is shackled with false debt and bad credit.

Robert Chappell recommends several preventive actions for parents and children. The first step is to obtain a free annual report from one of the three credit agencies. Though untangling oneself from the mess of a criminal’s fraudulent debt can be laborious and infuriating, each agency does have a resolution center and advice for safeguarding family identities (follow these links for TransUnion, Experian and Equifax).

Additional actions:

• Don’t share your child’s Social Security number. When asked for it on school or medical forms, ask whether optional information can be substituted, or whether you can use just the last four SSN digits.

• Tell your children not to place his/her birth date or address on social networking sites.

• Register all family phone numbers on the Do Not Call List.

• Shred sensitive information. Don’t discard pages from bills, credit cards or bank statements with readable information.

• Educate your children on the risks of giving away personal information.

To learn more, visit the ITAC and Federal Trade Commission pages dedicated to combating child identity theft.

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Photo: Child identity theft / George Diebold/Getty Images

80Comments
Feb 26, 2013 8:57AM
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I've known about this for years in most cases it's actually been the parent as the first perpertrator. When Mom or Dad's credit gets whacked due to their fault. they seem to have no problem with using their child's SS# to apply for credit. I really think this country should move back a few steps and stop providing SS#'s at birth. Let the child apply at 16 like it was the norm back in the day. You needed your SS# to apply for working papers at  the age of 16. that way no one has your info. until you are at least of legal age to begin working. at birth allows too many eyes from hospital personnel to parents to have access to this crucial info that helps identify us in this country.
Feb 26, 2013 8:23AM
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Always check your kids' credit if going through a divorce/custody battle; better yet, but them on credit watch.

Have your teens learn how they can check their credit; this is the federally mandated website rolled out during the GW Bush administration, not that crap you see on TV.

You get info from all 3 agencies, free once a year.

www.annualcreditreport.com

Feb 26, 2013 7:53AM
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How does anyone under age get credit cards and such where they can buy large dollar items in the first place?  Identity theft could be basically stopped by passing a simple law.  The law requires that anytime a credit card is used, the user must present a valid government ID to verify their identity.  This is not rocket science here.  But obviously the government and credit card companies don't much care since they have made no efforts to stop this.
Feb 26, 2013 7:07AM
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This just happened to my daughter. Today. Pain in the bums...
Feb 26, 2013 2:55AM
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I don't understand why in this country a child is able to obtain credit of any kind.  Only an adult can enter into a legal contract, so why are these criminals able to get loans and credit cards with a child's identity at all?  If these corporations actually paid attention, then this wouldn't even be a problem.
Feb 26, 2013 2:54AM
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MSM is stupid for even thinking this is not a problem.It has been going on for years!Must be a slow day for beatin on the GOP....   Sigh
Feb 26, 2013 2:50AM
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My ex wife's husband stole my daughter's identity when she was 20.  He opened up a phone bill and electric utility in her name, ran up bills of about 1500.00 in each then walked away.  She had no idea until she tried to open utilities in her name when she was 21.  She had a friend who was able to have the phone bill removed however she had to pay the electic bill.  Luckily that was all he did to her.  She said he had already done it to his 3 children and had no reservations doing it to her. 
Feb 26, 2013 2:30AM
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If they are checking for the SS# to match a name why wouldn't they also match it to the date of birth on record and see the giant red flag that a baby/child is using a credit card or buying a house, etc? Why in the world would any credit be administered to a minor....dumb. Seems this should be an easy catch early on.
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