CAPITAL DISTRICT In today’s tech-savvy society, one in ten American children will become a victim of identity theft. More alarming: according to Jean Chatzky, personal finance columnist, children are 35 times more likely than adults to have their identity stolen, with 15 percent of victims younger than age five. It is one of the fastest growing categories of theft in our country.
Children are such attractive targets for identity thieves because they have clean slates that can be used to commit fraud for years with minimal detection. In many instances, the fraud only becomes exposed when the child becomes old enough to obtain credit for the first time.
As parents, one of our strongest desires is to protect our children—both emotionally and physically. Traditionally, this has meant protecting them from themselves. But today’s world is more connected than ever before, and it’s no longer enough to raise our children to learn from the mistakes we made when we were children. Because the truth is, for today’s kids, the greatest challenge isn’t what they’re confronted with on the playground, it’s what happens online. And it’s changing the way many of us parent.
Understanding child identity theft
All it takes to create a fraudulent identity is a Social Security number, birthday, address and parents’ names. Children are issued Social Security numbers at birth, since parents need this information to claim the child as a dependent on tax returns. If parents aren’t careful with this information, there’s an opportunity for a thief to use a child’s clean record.
Since the Social Security Verification Service can only be used for W-2 reporting purposes, banks verify Social Security numbers, names and birthdates with credit bureaus. Since there’s no file created for a child’s Social Security number, someone can attach any name and birthdate with a Social Security number. Having a mobile phone or utility bill under this fake identity helps to establish credit . . . and that’s when the real damage can occur. Financial institutions rely on this credit file to review and approve loans.