This post was written by Julie Douglas. Photo credit Double Vision/iStockphoto.com
I've written about the future of children's privacy in the digital age, one in which Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicts that when this decade's crop of kids turn 18 they'll automatically be granted a name change so as to disassociate themselves from the bread trail of transgressions they've left on social media sites for all the world to see. But recently my savvy sister-in-law alerted me to a present-day danger concerning our children's identity.
Turns out that child identity theft is on the rise. According to a study conducted by ID Analytics, 500,000 children under the age of 18 have had their identities stolen by a parent. And that's just on the familial identity theft front, one in which a family member gains access to a child's Social Security number and opens lines of credit to purchase homes and automobiles. Outside of familial identity theft there are several other ways your tyke's SS number could be hijacked.
A child's Social Security number is valuable on the black market and used in organized crime as a way to engage in financial fraud, establish new identities, obtain driver's licenses and obtain false IDs for undocumented immigrants trying to look legit in the workplace. It's as easy as attaching the Social Security number to a new name and birth date. And it's as easy as a hacker breaking into the records of a pediatric care center, for example, to get the Social Security numbers.
According to consumer advocate Clark Howard, since there are no procedures in place to prevent identity theft for children (kids usually don't have lines of credit to freeze), the odds of a child's identity being stolen is 50 times greater than for an adult. It's a clean slate of credit. And the probability of discovery is low since parents typically don't monitor their child's identity.
There have been plenty of reports cropping up of kids graduating high school or college and applying for a credit card only to be denied due to bad credit. In one case 17-year-old Jaleesa Suelle discovered that she had $725,000 in debt thanks to 42 accounts opened with her Social Security number by eight people. Imagine being 17 and facing the daunting task of cutting through red tape to clear your credit history, a task that can take years to complete with a mind-spinning number of moving parts to manage.
So what can you do? You can run a credit report on your kid, but credit reports aren't designed to ferret out child identity theft -- they match your child's exact Social Security number with her exact birth date and name. Any deviation from that formula throws the system's ability to spot fraudulent activity.
Clark Howard suggests that a solid first step is for parents to use the free service AllClearID.com to see if there's been a security breech. In the meantime, putting your child's SS number in a secure place and keeping tabs on when and where you've used it (usually with schools and health care providers) can help manage the number of people laying eyes on your kid's digits.
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