One identity theft victim told ABC News that when she tried to apply for a car loan as an adult, she discovered that her mother had accumulated $150,000 worth of debt in her name, starting when she was eight years old. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident.
A 2012 study by AllClearID found that children were 35 times more likely than adults to be targeted by identity thieves, and 10.7 percent of children had someone else use their Social Security Number. Here are some things you need to know about identity theft to keep your children from becoming victimized.
Why Identity Thieves Target Children
Credit.com founder Adam Levin says identity thieves target children because child identity theft is hard to detect. Children normally have no need to use their SSN or check their credit history until they approach 18, so an impersonator can go undetected for years and steal thousands or even millions of dollars.
AllClearID described one 19-year-old victim whose identity had been used to commit $1.5 million in fraud. Levin estimates that 140,000 to 400,000 children are victimized annually.
Some Typical Scams
Credit bureau Equifax says identity thieves are usually family members or unknown perpetrators who have stolen, bought or randomly picked a child's SSN. Some thieves are school staff or health care workers.
After perpetrators obtain a child's information, they may use it to open bank accounts, apply for mortgage loans or receive government benefits. They may also rent an apartment, apply for utilities or even get a job. Some use another person's SSN to hide a criminal record or a medical condition that could result in their being denied insurance.
The FTC recommends guarding records containing your child's identifying information by placing them in a secure location. Shred documents you don't need. Don't share your child's SSN without a good reason. When filling out paperwork requiring an SSN, ask to use the last four digits only.
Joey Keys of the Better Business Bureau says you can freeze your child's SSN by contacting the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Be on the alert when situations arise that could compromise your child's identity, such as getting your purse stolen or having your home broken into. Check your child's credit history annually to monitor suspicious activity.
To monitor suspicious activity, it helps to know what warning signs to look for. Sometimes the first sign that your child's identity has been stolen might be something that affects you. For instance, you might get turned down for government benefits because someone else is already claiming benefits using your child's SSN. In other cases, your child may receive notices from bill collectors or the IRS regarding items they didn't purchase, taxes they don't owe or tax filings using their SSN they didn't file. You can learn more about the latest scams by following LifeLock's identity theft news updates.
What to Do if Your Child Has Been Victimized
If you suspect your child has been victimized, the FTC recommends several steps. Minors should not normally have a credit history, so one way to determine if your child has been victimized is contacting the three major credit bureaus to see if your child is on file. You can call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285 and Experian at 1-888-397-3742, while TransUnion has a special email at email@example.com, with additional information on their website and a secure Child Identity Theft Inquiry Form.
Have the credit bureaus place a 90-day credit alert on your child's file with a note saying "account closed at consumer's request." You will need to renew this request every 90 days.
Law enforcement professional Robert P. Chappell Jr., author of Child Identity Theft, recommends asking the credit agencies to do a search using only your child's SSN so they can catch anyone else using their number. You can also ask to freeze your child's credit.
Keep a journal and detailed records of your interactions with the credit bureaus. Also, contact the police and the FTC using the FTC's online complaint form or by calling 1-877-438-4338.