Children, more and more often, are being targeted by identity thieves because kids have clean financial records that allow identity thieves to fly under the radar for years after they use a child’s stolen identity.
October 16-22 is National Protect Your Identity Week and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is raising awareness about the child variety with a host of useful information on its IDTheftInfo.org website.
When someone steals your identity, you don’t wander around aimlessly like some John or Jane Doe. Instead, someone pilfers enough of your personal identifying information — name, address, Social Security Number, drivers license, credit and financial account numbers, and the like — then masquerades as you to make purchases, withdraw cash or otherwise undermine your financial assets and your name.
The crime could cost you money lost outright and money to repair your credit. It could also temporarily — but for quite a while — put the kibosh on your attempts to land a mortgage, refinance, get a credit card and proceed with other financial activity.
For kids, it can be even worse.
“Children today are being targeted for identity theft because their records are clean – they don’t have bad credit or other types of fraud associated with their names or Social Security numbers,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection. “That makes children’s personal information very attractive to identity thieves to use for employment, open credit accounts, and other illegal purposes,” Grant added.
Kids also have become easy targets for ID thieves because of the exposure offered by popular social networking sites on the Internet. In their naiveté, kids are too often willing to give out information that can be used fraudulently. Parents also contribute to the problem when they don’t take care to secure their kid’s personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that victims age 19 and under accounted for 8 percent of the identity theft complaints that it received in 2010.
Time isn’t on their side
It can be years before a child’s stolen identity is discovered.
“Child identity theft is often not discovered until the victims become adults and try to get jobs, apartments, or loans for college,” said Ms. Grant. “Parents need to take steps now to reduce the risk of someone stealing their child’s identity,” Grant said.
It can be even worse for foster children, because they often lack a family support system to see them through the ordeal, according to California Office of Privacy Protection, A Better Start: Clearing Up Credit Records for California Foster Children, which outlines a pilot project on how to determine if foster children are identity theft victims and, if they are, steps to take to cure the problem.
Matt Cullina, CEO of Identity Theft 911 and a member of CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group, offers the following tips to ward off identity theft.
• Guard you child’s Social Security card and other documents containing their Social Security number. Only carry them when needed for a specific purpose. Also, don’t leave Social Security or other identification information lying around the house, office or school where others can see it.
• If a child’s personal Social Security number is requested, ask why. It may not be necessary, or other information could be used as an alternative. If you must provide a child’s Social Security number, ask how it will be used, who will have access to it, and how it will be protected from fraudulent use. If the information is not going to be retained, ask how it will be destroyed or returned to you.
• Cross-shred documents containing children’s Social Security numbers and other personal information before disposing of them.
• Don’t post children’s pictures online. Many digital cameras have geocoding features that embed the location where the pictures were taken. This can help identity thieves link children’s names to their addresses.
• Don’t give children their Social Security numbers until they understand how and why to protect them.
• As your children age, make sure they understand the risks of social networking and the need to keep sensitive personal information private. Teach them to create strong passwords, avoid accepting friend requests from strangers, and to be careful when clicking on links or taking quizzes. The Federal Trade Commission also offers excellent information about protecting children’s privacy.
• Parents should watch for signs of child identity theft such as preapproved offers of credit, bills, and debt collection notices in a child’s name. Parents should only check for credit reports related to their children if there is reason to suspect that identity theft has occurred. Children shouldn’t have credit reports associated with their names and Social Security numbers. Checking for a credit report can actually create a credit report identity thieves could then exploit.
More news about identity theft.