Children targets for identity theft

High-profile cases of identity theft should place parents on high alert to protect their children, who are prime targets of cyber thieves.

A survey conducted for the Identity Theft Assistance Center discovered that one in 40 households with children under age 18 experienced child identity fraud. The survey revealed that the personal information most likely to be stolen and illegally used are the child’s Social Security number (56 percent) and the child’s date of birth (33 percent).

While investigating child identity theft cases on behalf of the Virginia State Police, Robert Chappell noticed a significant lack of awareness concerning children and identity fraud. “Parents often don’t understand that their child’s personal information is of value (to criminals),” said Marshall, author of “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know.”

Marshall said the child’s stolen information is used on a credit application, and the financial industry often views this phony first-time applicant as having good credit. “Criminals have learned that this means they have a high likelihood of success in getting credit issued in the child’s name,” he explained.

Along with having pristine credit, children are targeted because illegally using a child’s information can go undetected for years. The Identity Theft Resource Center warns, “By the time a young person opens his or her first checking accounts, credit card accounts or applies for college financial aid, someone may have already had a decade-long shopping spree under that identity.”

The consequences are both immediate and long-term.

“It’s not just a matter of proving that your 6-year-old didn’t buy that new car,” the center continues. “Bad credit or credit discrepancies can affect your child’s ability to get a job, to apply for financial aid, to join the military, (or) to pass a security check for travel.”

Attorney General Greg Zoeller recommends that parents freeze the credit of each family member, including children, at indianaconsumer.com. The credit freeze can be lifted anytime credit is legitimately being applied for and then frozen again after the transaction.

“This is a serious crime,” Marshall said. “We need recognition of this problem not just among law enforcement but among parents and everyone who takes care of children.”

Parents can detect fraud sooner by watching for warning signs listed by the Federal Trade Commission. Parents should be concerned if: your child receives credit card offers or marketing materials from banks; collection agencies contact you for unpaid debts in your child’s name; an application to open a bank account for your child is rejected due to bad credit; government benefits are denied because your child’s Social Security number is used under another person’s name; and the IRS reports that your child’s Social Security number is being utilized on another person’s tax return.

Parents who discover child identity theft should notify local police and file a report with the FTC at ftc.gov. The issuers of credit also should be notified. If the creditor does not cancel the expenses or credit, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller advises parents to turn to their local circuit court for relief.

Even better, of course, is preventing identity theft from occurring at all. While the center notes that there is no guarantee of protecting a child’s identity, parents can greatly increase the likelihood that a child’s information can stay safe.

For example, the child’s Social Security card and birth certificate should stay at home and not be carried around by parents. Moms should not post their maiden name on social media since a mother’s maiden name commonly is used as a password to enter financial websites. Similarly, parents should not post their child’s birth date or wish their child a happy birthday on social media, thus making the child’s birth date easily available to identity thieves.

Children and youth do not need to know their Social Security numbers until, as teenagers, they are applying for a job or a driver’s license, and young people should be reminded to not share any personal information with others, either in person or online. Parents who need to share their child’s information online should do so only to known and trusted people or organizations on computers with proper firewall and anti-virus protections.

Zoeller recommends that parents freeze the credit of each family member, including children, at indianaconsumer.com. The credit freeze can be lifted anytime credit is legitimately being applied for and then frozen again after the transaction.

“This is a serious crime,” Marshall said. “We need recognition of this problem not just among law enforcement but among parents and everyone who takes care of children.”

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.