Identity thieves often steal newborns' information, committing fraud with it for years before parents are aware it happened. Photo by: Kevin Hudson/MSU Extension Service
December 9, 2017 10:00:37 PM
Identity theft takes many forms, but theft of a child's identity is one of the most difficult frauds to detect and can go unnoticed for years.
The Federal Trade Commission defines child identity theft as another person using a child's personal or financial information to make purchases, get benefits, file taxes or commit fraud.
Susan Cosgrove, family resource management area agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Newton County, said this theft often goes unnoticed until the child gets ready to enter college.
"As a parent, just imagine how you would feel to discover that your child's Social Security number had been used to establish credit and thousands of dollars of bad debt was in your child's name," Cosgrove said. "Juniors in high school should begin checking their credit, so when it comes time to apply for college, they can have everything cleared up if someone has stolen their identity.
Identity theft happens anytime anyone uses personal information of another person to pose as a consumer and fraudulently obtain goods and services in the victim's name. Identity theft also includes the use of this information by another person to conceal his or her true identity from authorities or those conducting background checks.
Cosgrove said anyone can become a victim of identity fraud after personal information is stolen, including address, banking information, Medicare identification, Social Security number and mother's maiden name.
"When adults have this information stolen, the theft is often detected sooner, as they make automobile or other large-ticket purchases, get bank statements or review their credit history," Cosgrove said. "Since children do not do these things, a criminal often is able to use a child's stolen information for years before it is detected."
Colleen Tressler of the Federal Trade Commission Division of Consumer and Business Education, said 17.6 million Americans, or 7 percent of the U.S. population, fell victim to identity theft in 2014. Children are often targets of this crime.
"Years ago, any conversation about kids' identities was about sewing name tags in their clothes before they left for summer camp. Times have changed," Tressler said. "Any parent or guardian of a child knows the milestones that come with turning 16. But now, there's one more: checking their credit report."
She said identity thieves can use a child's Social Security number to rent housing, open bank and credit card accounts, or apply for loans, tax refunds, government benefits and utility services. Sometimes the thief is a member of the child's family. Tressler said guardian adults sometimes steal children's identities because their own poor credit records prevent them from acquiring services such as housing or utilities.
Parents can contact the three major credit bureaus to find out if their child has a credit history.
"Children and young teens aren't even legally able to open credit accounts on their own, so you wouldn't expect them to have a credit report," Tressler said. "Someone might be using their information for fraud. If so, it's most likely identity theft."
Steps to clear up this fraud include working with each company listed on the credit report, asking it to close the fraudulent account and send a letter confirming the child is not liable for the account. Send a letter to each of the credit bureaus with proof that the victim is a minor unable to enter contracts, and place a credit freeze on the Social Security number.
The MSU Extension Service offers a variety of information and seminars on the subject of child identity theft and other forms of fraud. Visit http://extension.msstate.edu for more information.