by David Lukić
We all want to protect our children from both known and unknown threats, especially now in the digital age. At times, we believe the potential dangers posed to adults cannot harm our children. However, this is not always the case. In this ever-increasing digital world, child identity theft is becoming more and more prevalent.
Identity theft is the unlawful access to a person’s confidential information to achieve financial gain. While identity theft in adults tends to be more about a loss of funds, identity theft in children can have a more insidious effect. Access to valuable information allows thieves to:
- Open bank accounts
- Rent property
- Apply for government benefits and assistance
- Apply for a loan
- Get utility services, such as gas, electricity, and water
Child identity theft targeted more than 1 million children under the age of 18 in 2017 alone. Of those, two-thirds were under the age of 7. This may be surprising since we don’t typically think of children as victims of identity theft.
One of the unforeseen repercussions of the pandemic is that identity theft more than doubled in 2020 alone. AARP reports that 39% of children will fall victim to identity theft versus 19% of adults. This rise in child identity theft is worrying.
We have all had to make adjustments to our daily operations. For some, this includes increasing our digital presence. In 2020, 71% of adults had to work from home. Because of this, hackers and online criminals had more access than ever to confidential files.
Why Are Children Targeted for Identity Theft?
You may be asking – why children? Well, the answer is quite simple. Children are a ‘blank slate.’ Most children do not have credit liabilities in their name. Although children are not likely to have substantial amounts of available funds in their accounts, they do have better chances of opening a line of credit.
Financial fraud can occur easier because children and parents are less likely to monitor their credit reports and confidential documents. Parents rarely check to see if their child has a credit history. Therefore, criminals can take advantage of the child’s identity over time.
Identity theft frequently happens to adults too. You, as the parent, may have had your personal information compromised. By no fault of your own, once a criminal has access to your information, they can quickly obtain access to your child’s.
How Does Child Identity Theft Even Happen?
There are multiple ways thieves can gain access to your child’s personal information. Here are the most frequent:
- Physical Theft. When a child is born, they receive physical versions of their social security card and birth certificate. Criminals can physically steal the child’s identity cards or social security cards. This could be by making a copy of the card or taking the original copy. It is essential to keep a close eye on these documents and limit who has access to them.
- Parental Theft. Though this is unthinkable for most, some parents or guardians may feel tempted to take advantage of their child’s untouched credit possibilities. According to Parents.com, 60% of victims of child identity theft knew their assailants. Close family members often have knowledge of pertinent information pertaining to children.
- Digital Theft. Criminals commonly use this method in an attempt to commit financial fraud. We may not even realize that our child has a digital presence. However, most of their private information can be obtained online. This can happen through online registrations, birth announcements, and messaging.
When these thieves steal your child’s information, several things can happen. The government could deny them access to benefits such as student loans. Your child could also end up with a poor credit history and be unable to apply for student credit cards.
It Can Be Surprisingly Easy to Collect Personal Information
D.P. Friesen reveals in his article just how easy it is to gather personal information. Friesen conducted a social experiment to see how much personal information he could gather on a random person. Within an hour, using only a license plate number, the internet and social media, he was able to collect the following information:
- owner of the car
- vehicle make|model and year purchased
- mother’s maiden name
- marital status
- ex-wife’s name
- children’s names, sexes, ages
- general area of home and workplace
- cell numbers
You might be shocked at how much personal information you’re unwittingly giving out about yourself.
Precautions and Prevention
This may all seem overwhelming and confusing. With all of this information, you may be wondering how you can protect your child. We can all take preventive measures to keep our children —and ourselves— safe from identity theft.
The first step is to educate your child on internet safety. This step is key as your child grows and starts to want to play online or browse the web on their own. The internet opens up a magnitude of possibilities for your child. They may see the fun and joy that comes from an online presence, but it is our responsibility to keep them safe.
Secondly, avoid oversharing or providing unnecessary information. If you need to give personal details, ask why the information is required and how exactly the requesting entity will use it. What we perceive as trivial information may be all a criminal needs to commit identity theft. Something as seemingly harmless as sharing the birthday of your child online can be a gateway for criminals. So can signing up for email chains. Be careful about giving out personal information on social media, too.
You should also be alert if you start receiving IRS letters or debt collection calls in your child’s name. We all tend to overlook and ignore these things as it is easy to assume that these alerts are spam or sent in error. But most times, this is a sign that something is not right, and child identity theft has happened.
The bottom line is that we must take proactive measures in assuring that our children do not fall victim to financial fraud. It can be scary not knowing who has access to your child’s precious information. Stay on top of your child’s financial safety by regularly requesting their credit reports from the major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
You are allowed one free credit check per year. Poor credit can follow a person for many years after the initial incidents occur. Reporting and correcting the crime can save your child future troubles when they are ready to start their financial journey.
Has child identity theft affected your family?
Have you or your child been the victim of identity theft? If so, how was your family affected? Share your thoughts and experiences with other readers in the comments section.
David Lukić is an information privacy, security, and compliance consultant at IDstrong.com. His passion for making cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to share all his knowledge.
Interesting. I guess all of the people pouring over our Southern Border just might be looking for a way to get a SS card and Driver’s License ? I remember reading a few years ago that many of the Illegal’s here in Florida have more than 2 or 3 I.D.’s on them.
Another interesting note is that your kids can have credit scores long before they can apply for credit cards. I had a 15 year old who enrolled in a CD monthly program, then cancelled his membership. Guess what was on his credit record when he first applied for a credit card? Thankfully, his credit score now is even better than mine!
One case I heard of was where a retired doctor took the name of a local teen, next town over, a name so unique that there was only one person in the whole country that had it. He then used it to commit fraud on eBay. He opened an account on eBay, an email account on Yahoo, a PayPal account, all in the teen’s name. He didn’t need the social security number to commit fraud, there was no reporting back to credit agencies. He used that name for six years.
Then one of his victims of fraud decided to fight back. Through a hole in PayPal security, he found the fraudster’s real name, from which he verified his home address, the fraudster’s home and cell phone numbers, email address, then reported it all to the then young woman who had no idea that her name was being used for fraud. Well, there was another verification in that the fraudster had had the package delivered to his home address. As far as the victim of fraud was concerned, that the fraud could be traced to a single individual was de facto identity theft.
Shortly thereafter, the stolen identity accounts were erased from eBay and PayPal. And the victim got his money back.
What this story tells us is that an identity thief doesn’t need a victim’s social security number to start online fraud. In fact, by not using a social security number may escape detection for a longer period of time.