The dangers of letting children surf the net capture headlines daily due to cyberbullying; however, there is another dark danger to children being online – child identity theft. In the past, thieves would have to depend on a lost social security card or a discarded credit card receipt to gain personal information. Identity theft is a huge problem for any victim, but one of the biggest concerns of identity theft is when it happens to a child.
Predators and thieves have been around since the beginning of time. As time and technology have progressed, the methods of preying on children have become even easier for perpetrators. The internet is a great resource for many things, but it can also be a highly unsafe place, especially for children.
A somewhat disturbing study was conducted between 2009 and 2010. Identity protection scans were run on 42,232 minors (age 18 and under). Out of all of these checks, a little over 10% returned evidence that some kind of identity theft had been committed on these children. To give a broader perspective, the rate of child attacks (10.2%) is about 51 times higher than that of adult attacks (0.2%). The occurrences were higher for older children (ages 15-18), however, 7% were found in children under the age of 5.
Many times, a child’s social security number (SSN) is stolen and also shared, meaning more than one predator has access to it. Predators opt to do things such as take out loans and credit accounts, open property-related accounts, open utility accounts, leave thousands or millions of dollars in bills in collections, and receive driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations with the child’s SSN. Predators can foreclose homes, finance property through mortgages, and open credit cards that they never pay the bills on. The possibilities are endless, and can hugely impact a child’s future.
Thieves are able to use children’s SSNs attached to a different name and date of birth to commit fraud. This is because no government services are available to allow people to verify the real name and date of birth attached to an SSN. Therefore, even if an SSN check comes back with something sketchy, it oftentimes cannot be looked into further, especially if there is an indication it might have something to do with a minor. Predators are able to open new lines of credit by providing agents and clerks with a cash deposit, and they can then engage in reckless financial activities.
This is obviously an urgent issue, and unfortunately, it costs a lot of time and money to clear up. Furthermore, if it is not caught in time, it can vastly affect the child’s future. For example, educational and job opportunities can be lost and the purchase of a home or vehicle can be denied due to poor credit.
A Science Daily report found that four out of five children cannot tell if they are talking to an adult or a child online, which makes it really easy for predators to deceive them. Predators pose as many things, including athletic and academic recruiters, modeling agents, employers, gaming buddies, friends of friends, and so on. They do this so that they can become “friends” with a child and gain the child’s personal information through their communications. They also use technology-related methods such as planting viruses on the child’s computer remotely. These viruses can steal basically anything on a computer, which includes tax information, healthcare information, legal documents, and much more.
So how do you know if your child’s identity has been stolen? One main red flag is if you start receiving financial offers for your child in his or her name. This is a clear sign that your child has some kind of credit file, when he or she should obviously not. Receiving IRS documents in your child’s name is also a huge red flag. These documents usually state that the child failed to pay income taxes or the child’s SSN was used on someone else’s tax return. Collection calls for services you and your child never received also may indicate that your child’s identity has been stolen. Since a lot of victims are unaware their identities have been stolen until adulthood, it is important to be aware and watch for any questionable signs that any identity theft of your child may be going on.
If you do suspect you are in a situation where your child’s identity has been stolen, it is first important to confirm your suspicion. First, do a comprehensive person search by SSN on your child to find strange addresses or phone numbers. Calling the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and asking for a review of your child’s file is crucial. Once confirmed, request that every account, account inquiry, and collections issue be closed or removed. Then request that a fraud alert gets put on your child’s credit report. Know your rights, and keep documentation of everything related to the issue.
How can you protect your child? Step one should be discussing online safety with him or her. Most children do not know what credit is and how releasing even a little bit of personal information can have a seriously negative impact on them in the future. Making sure your child knows not to provide his or her information to anyone online (or in person) is crucial. Most educational resources are free, including CyLab’s www.MySecureCyberspace.com. Also, monitor forms and requests you receive regarding your child, even if they are from his or her school. Make sure these forms will be kept safe and actually require the information they request.
Of course, creditors, banks, and other businesses should improve their methods of making sure a client opening an account is legitimate. However, we should take precautions as well.You should also do your best to know what your child is looking at online, who your child is talking to, and what kind of information your child is providing to strangers.