Identity thieves are targeting children who may not even discover they’ve had their personal information stolen for sevel years.
A Relatively Young Crime
Identity theft is generally defined as: The use of a person’s personally identifying information—a name, Social Security number, credit card number or other financial information—without permission, to commit fraud, theft or other crimes.
After the enactment of the federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, the Federal Trade Commission created the Consumer Sentinel Network to collect consumers’ complaints to share with law enforcement personnel. The secure, online database has since collected millions of complaints involving fraud and identity theft.
Every state now has a law regarding identity theft or impersonation. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have specific restitution provisions for identity theft that require thieves to reimburse victims. Five states—Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee—have forfeiture provisions.
Despite the laws, identity thieves continue to succeed at finding easy victims. And when they do, they can cause a lot of damage. In a recent survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, victims reported losing a total of $24.7 billion in direct and indirect costs because of identity theft in 2012. In fact, losses from identity theft exceeded the $14 billion in losses reported from all the other property crimes—burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft—combined.
Why Target Kids?
Among the 13 million consumers whose identities were stolen in 2013, are a growing number of children. One in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised, according to a 2012 survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group. The survey revealed that identity thieves most often steal children’s Social Security numbers, since young children seldom have the credit histories acquired by adults, such as credit cards, bank accounts, licenses and financial statements.
Nevertheless, children’s identifying information is very appealing to thieves who will often create “synthetic” identities using a child’s Social Security number with a different date of birth to avoid detection.
Most children have no credit histories and their Social Security numbers have not yet been flagged in any fraud prevention database. Unmarked and untested, children’s stolen identities often go unnoticed until after they reach 18. This allows the fraud to continue for years. In the 2012 Identity Theft Assistance Center/Javelin Child Identity Fraud Survey, 17 percent of children were victimized for a year or longer.
Five Common Warning Signs
Identity theft can be hard to detect, although these warning signs should raise reds flags immediately.
1. A family receives calls from collection agencies, bills from credit card companies or medical providers, or offers for credit cards or bank account checks in a child’s name, even if the child has never applied for or used these services.
2. A child or a family is denied government benefits because another account using that Social Security number is already receiving benefits.
3. The Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or some other government agency asks to confirm that a child is employed, even though the child has never had a job.
4. The IRS notifies a parent that the same information he or she filed for a dependent child is listed on another tax return.
5. A child receives a notice from the IRS saying he or she failed to pay taxes on income the child has never received.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
Have You Checked Your Credit Report?
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—to provide consumers over age 18 with a free copy of their credit report, upon request, once every 12 months. The website, www.annualcreditreport.com, is the only one authorized to fill orders for a free report, although consumers may also call 1-877-322-8228 to request a report.
Callers will need to provide their name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If they have moved in the last two years, they may have to provide their previous address. To maintain security, the credit reporting agencies may ask for some personal information, such as the amount of a monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask for different information because the information each has comes from different sources.
For children younger than 18, parents, legal guardians and child welfare agencies must request a manual search of the child’s credit file through a written request directly to each consumer reporting agency. The credit reporting companies may require copies of:
- The child’s birth certificate and Social Security card
- The parent’s driver’s license or military identification,
- Proof of address, such as a utility bill or credit card statement, and
- Copies of documents proving legal guardianship of the child.
- Child Identity Theft | Federal Trade Commission
- 2012 Child Identity Fraud Report | Identity Theft Assistance Center
- Victims of Identity Theft, 2012 | Bureau of Justice Statistics
- 2013 Identity Fraud report | Javelin Strategy and Research
- ITRC Fact Sheet 120 Identity Theft and Children | Identity Theft Resource Center