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Consumer
Your newborn could be a victim of ID theft


LONDON (10/24/11)--When a Social Security number is assigned to a child, there's no way to check if that number already has been used by criminals or used by mistake by other adults. Organized cyber-criminals know this, and have turned what used to be a minor domestic crime into global ID trafficking (eWeekEurope Oct. 17).

The new twist on "old" child identity theft--a family member using a child's Social Security number to get around having poor credit--makes children even more vulnerable. Thieves are eager to get their hands on children's Social Security numbers because there's no credit history, and they can pair the numbers with any name and birth date. Inactive Social Security numbers, most of them assigned to children younger than age 18, can be found online; crooks then can sell those numbers under different names with the intent of helping people establish fake credit.

How bad is the problem? According to research by identity theft protection service AllClear ID, Austin, Texas, and consulting group Carnegie Mellon University Cylab, Pittsburgh, Pa., children are 51 times more likely to have their identity stolen than adults (thestreet.com Oct. 13).

Unless parents take the initiative to check for child identity theft, the crime can go unnoticed until the young adult applies for credit after turning age 18. By then, she could have hundreds of thousands of dollars of bad debt racked up in her name or Social Security number--an unwelcome surprise to her and to her parents, who had no idea their child's sensitive information was vulnerable.

Take these precautions:

  • Never use your child's Social Security number to open accounts. This may be tempting if you have bad credit, but not paying those bills on time now could keep her from getting school loans, an apartment, or even a job in the future.
  • Watch for preapproved credit offers in the child's name. Investigate further to see if your child is a victim.
  • Don't request a regular credit report to check for signs of child identity theft. Since most child identity theft now occurs by attaching the Social Security number to a new name and birth date, credit reports that check for a full match of name, birth date, and Social Security number won't detect the fraud.
  • Use ITRC Letter Form 120 to request a child's credit report. Visit idtheftcenter.org and enter "120A" in the search box. Identity Theft Resource Center's Fact Sheet 120A has information about what to include in your request of the three credit reporting agencies, and a template you can use.
  • Sign up for ChildScan. This free service from AllClear ID and TransUnion is a safe and secure way for parents to check if someone is using a child's Social Security number. There's no trial, and no fee unless you subscribe to the premium service. Visit allclearid.com/child for more information.
 

To find out if you're at risk of identity theft, take the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Identity Theft Risk Check Quiz. And for more information, read "ID Theft Thrives by Surprise" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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