Who would steal a child's identity? Unfortunately, a lot of people

Part of growing up is developing a sense of self.  Unfortunately, thieves are stealing childrens' identities long before they are fully formed. 

As part of National Protect Your Identity Week (October 16-22, 2011), AllClear ID partnered with National Foundation for Credit Counseling member agencies to raise awareness of this often overlooked crime.  AllClear ID's extensive research revealed some startling statistics.

Over 10% of the children scanned from AllClear ID's data were victims of identity theft. To put this into perspective with other child issues that are big topics with parents today:

  • Cyber bullying is 9% (Source: FBI)
  • Sexual victimization of boys 10% (Source: NCMEC)
  • Sexual victimization of girls 20% (Source: NCMEC)

This 10% rate of child ID theft equates to children being victimized by identity thieves at a rate 51 times greater than adults.

This happens to children at such an alarming rate because child ID theft is a unique and different crime than adult ID theft. Most children are issued Social Security numbers when they’re born or at a very young age. But, children don’t need to use their Social Security number until they’re older, many not until they’re 18. In the meantime, a thief can take a stolen Social Security number, and attach a different name to it to commit ID fraud for years. In fact, ID thieves use children’s Social Security numbers with DIFFERENT names 99% of the time according to AllClear ID's data.

Employers, banks, retailers, and other organizations processing credit and employment applications expect to see new Social Security numbers entering the system each day as children grow up and take normal life steps: open lines of credit, apply for a job, apartment, mobile phone, student loans, a car...the list goes on. Unfortunately, thieves use the same steps recommended to children when first establishing themselves: ID thieves start with something small, like a cell phone account, and being to build a fraudulent history with the stolen identity.

Because Social Security numbers were designed to track benefits, not identities, there is no centralized system to verify what name and birthdate rightfully own a Social Security number when it enters the system for the first time.

To protect your child's identity, Jamie May, chief investigator at AllClear ID, offers the following four tips: 

  1. Watch for mail in your child’s name: Pre-approved credit offers or other unsolicited financial offers are a key indicator that you child may have an open credit file
  2. Teach your children about privacy online: Children begin using the internet at a very early age. It is important that parents actively teach children how to responsibly share and manage information online. Ensure that your children always ask permission before submitting personal information online, and always explain why they should or should not disclose the information. Also, make sure they know not to open emails from people they do not know. By doing so, you can ensure that your children grow to be responsible with their information as teenagers and young adults.
  3. Don’t give away your child’s information if you don’t have to: You will receive countless requests for your child’s SSN on anything from soccer registration to medical forms. Always ask why the SSN is needed; often times you’ll find that the information is unnecessary. If so, don’t disclose the information. Additionally, be sure to tell to your older children not to freely provide their SSN on forms. When the time comes to apply for their first jobs, applications will frequently ask for your child’s SSN, only to be left in an unsecure location. Tell your child it is ok not to provide this information until they are actually hired. In all cases where this information is required don’t be afraid to question how it will be stored and protected. 
  4. Check your child’s identity early – don’t wait until it’s too late: Parents need to check their children as early as possible, complicated cases can take many years to resolve. Several cases of child identity theft have resulted in children unable to secure college loans and internships, delaying their future plans, and costing them time and huge opportunities

For information on child ID theft and how to prevent it, watch the short video below.  You can also read AllClear ID's research report on child ID theft.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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