A major weak link in the privacy protections used by millions of American families is their children.
Criminals are known for finding and exploiting weak links, and sadly, this one is no exception. These low-lifes have no moral problem stealing candy from a baby; it’s all in a day’s work.
Take Cirilo Centeno, for example. In the U.S. illegally, this punk bought a stolen identity from another punk for only $50.
Over the next six years, armed with just the name and Social Security number of the victim, Centeno bought a truck, obtained three separate jobs, hooked up gas and electrical service for his home, qualified for a credit card, claimed unemployment benefits twice for a total of six months, and received over $60,000 in pay and services, according to police.
This six-year crime spree ended when the victim’s mother attempted to claim her son on her income tax return and was denied by the IRS because “someone else” was using the Social Security number. Her son was just 7-years old, and his identity had been stolen shortly after birth.
All of this damage for only $50; identity theft is profitable for criminals and devastating for victims. Indeed, according to the largest report on child identity theft by Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab:
Your child or grandchild may be 51 times more likely to have his or her identity stolen than you.
In light of this data, we’d like to share nine practical steps (some based on simple common sense) you can use to prevent this from happening to your family or a friend’s family.
Carnegie Mellon’s report scanned over 42,000 children and found:
Better than one in ten had someone else using their Social Security number. Adults in the same population showed a 1-in-200 identity theft rate.
19% of victims were younger than 10 years old.
76% of the cases involved malicious fraud.
One victim was fraudulently saddled with over $725,000 in debt.
Another study on child identity theft by Javelin Strategy and Research found:
12% of the child victims in their study were 5 years old and younger.
25% of child victims had bills or lines of credit in collections or foreclosure.
67% had fake or wrong names listed under their Social Security number.
42% of erroneous credit reports only showed on one credit bureau. (Checking ALL three bureaus is vital to preventing child I.D. Theft.)
One victim had over $325,000 in debt.
Another child had seven identities listed under his Social Security number. These identities ran up thousand of dollars in medical bills, secured apartment rentals, and had accounts in collections.
Your Child or Grandchild:
An Easy and Desirable Target
for Identity Thieves
Children have a clean slate, perfect for creating a fake identity. And because most parents don’t think about monitoring their child’s identity, the risk of discovery is low, and the abuse can take place over many years.
These are some of the primary drivers for child identity theft:
Illegal immigration – to obtain false IDs for employment;
Organized crime – blatant financial fraud;
Criminal identity theft – a criminal substitutes the child’s identity when caught in a criminal act;
Friends and family – studies suggest 13% of all victims (adults included) had their identities stolen by someone they knew.
Child I.D. Theft Impacts the Whole Family
In today’s world, many activities require good credit: getting a mobile phone, landing a job, renting an apartment, buying a car, and more.
Imagine your child or grandchild applying for a student loan to attend college or trade school and being declined because of identity theft.
More shocking, what if you learned your child has a warrant out for his or her arrest for crimes committed by an identity thief!
For a family, cleaning up the mess from a child’s stolen identity is costly, time consuming, and emotionally draining.
What’s worse is when the thief is someone the child or family knows personally. It could be a neighbor, a friend, a trusted professional with access to your child’s records (school or doctor, for instance), an aunt or uncle, even the child’s mother or father.
This known thief may face financial difficulty and be looking for a fast and easy way out. The family member may suffer from addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Or, the “friend” may simply have an abusive personality. No matter the reason, this can emotionally impact the child and family. If you or a loved one face this kind of situation, read the IDTheftCenter.org’s Fact Sheet 115: When You Personally Know the Identity Thief
Nine Preventative Measures
to Avoid Child Identity Theft
As with many things in life, prevention is the best course of action. “Taking steps right now to protect your child from this horrible crime is one of the greatest investments you will ever make in their financial and emotional future,” says John Sileo, identity-theft and data-breach expert.
Monitor your child’s credit report; start early rather than later. Go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com and follow their instructions to order a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. (We tried this, and it truly is free.) Sileo suggests staggering the free reports. For instance, order the first one from Equifax now, Experian four months from now, and TransUnion four months after that. Then keep the cycle going. With this system in place if any fraudulent activity turns up, you’ll be able to catch it within four months rather than after a year (allowing less time for damage to occur).
Never carry your child’s Social Security card or number on you. Don’t carry the number in your wallet or purse. Don’t store it on your smart phone. Store it away securely, as you do with yours. Also, make sure no one else carries it: spouse, ex-spouse, nanny, etc.
Protect your child’s birth certificate just as you would their Social Security number. Over 80% of organizations (school, doctors, scouts, sports teams, etc.) request copies of these documents. Often, they don’t even need it to provide services. Don’t give out photocopies of the birth certificate unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even then, ask how they intend to use the information, how long they’ll keep it on file, and how it’s protected.
Avoid giving out any personal information about your child (and yourself) unless it critically necessary. Stay vigilant. Identity thieves can use any piece of information to start building a profile and pick-up additional information over time; like putting together a puzzle. With many of the child I.D. theft examples above, the criminals only had the Social Security number (not even the name, in some cases). Children are a blank slate, and that’s what makes them a profitable target.
Shred all information (as you do with yours). School correspondence, health, sports teams, clubs, scouts anything that has any identifying information such as age, date of birth, address, phone number, Social Security number, etc.
Freeze your child’s credit. Since your child won’t need any loans or credit until early adulthood, freezing his or her credit may be a good investment of time and money. Contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Complete their credit freeze process by mail and pay their fee.
If you find evidence of fraudulent activity: 1) file a police report, 2) contact the source that reported the fraud, and 3) notify all three credit bureaus. Filing a police report is necessary to establish a paper trail of your child’s innocence. Keep detailed records of all communication between you and these entities; it will help your case.
Keep your eyes open for “unusual” mail or notifications. If business mail, collection notices, credit card offers, telemarketing calls, or anything out of sync comes to your child’s name, it’s probably not a mistake or a computer glitch – it may be proof of child identity theft.
Educate your child or grandchild about privacy and protecting their personal information. If the child is older, discuss responsible and safe use of the Internet. Drill in the importance of privacy and using long-length passwords. Have the child respect and value his or her personal information and not give it out freely, not even to friends, or share it online. At school (also clubs, associations, scouts, etc.), talk to the teachers and administration about your child’s privacy. Consider not writing your child’s full name (use initials) on his or her clothes, lunch bag, uniform, etc. This is also a good idea to deter strangers who would befriend a young child by calling him or her by name and pretending to know the family.
Also, although this may not be easy, you could try to apply for a new Social Security number. To get more information if this is a good idea for you and family, look here: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html#new
Vigilance and prevention are the best defenses against child identity theft. Share this article with family, friends, neighbors, schoolteachers and administrators, scouts, sports leagues, and any other organization that routinely requests and stores your child’s personal information.
While many parents do a good job of protecting their children from online predators and cyber-bullies, the alarming percentage of children affected by identity theft warrants they (and you) are protected from this abuse as well.