Unlike cyber bullying or online predators, child identify theft is not on the radar for most parents and yet a recent report shows it might be a growing problem. After examining the cases of 42,232 children, a researcher from Carnegie Mellon CyLab discovered that 10,2% had had their Social Security number (SSN) stolen and used to obtain fraudulent loans, credits or drivers licenses.
Richard Power, a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon CyLab, reviewed the cases of 42,232 children who were enrolled in the AllClear ID Protection Network from Debix, a credit-monitoring provider, after the report of a data breach. The identity theft rate for the adults in the same population was only 0,2%, making the children 51 times more likely to become victims.
Why are children’s identities in such high demand? According to the report, thieves realize that there is unique value in children’s unused SSN because nobody thinks of monitoring them for fraudulent activity. Because there is no process to check the name and birth date attached to a SSN, a thief can use it with impunity.
In the most serious case, a 17-year-old girl in Arizona now has over $725,000 in debt after eight suspects opened 42 accounts including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and bills in collections including medical, credit cards, and utilities.
Nathan, a 14-year old boy from Kentucky, has several credit cards and a foreclosed mortgage in his credit history. The suspect who lives in California apparently established good credit for the 10 years and was later able to finance a $605,000 home.
“He was only three-years old when somebody started using [Nathan’s identity] , and the thought of that made me sick to my stomach,” said Nathan’s father in the report. But Nathan is not even the youngest victim. The youngest was five months old and 303 victims were under the age of five.
“Parents are going to have a hard time understanding how their children’s non-existent credit history could be worth more to a criminal than the parents’ own hard-earned and diligently-guarded good credit history but that’s the way it is shaping up”, said Richard Power. “ID theft on your child could go on for a long time before it is ever detected; potentially until that child is going to apply for loans to go to college or to buy their first car.”
Power’s advice to parents is to “extend the same kind of diligence and alertness, and make the same kind of investment, in their child’s ID protection, as they do for their own ID protection. That’s the sad truth of it.” He blames the way SSN have become widely used identifiers for the rising problem and calls for more academic research into the issue.