In 2011, advisors at the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) identified 574 cases of child identity theft representing 10% of the total identity theft cases recorded by the ITRC. In their 2010 report, the Federal Trade Commission reported that 8% of identity theft complaints received involved someone 19-years-old and under. In a recent 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab Report, children were reported to be 51 times more likely to become victims of identity than adults. In this same study, 10.2% of child identities scanned exhibited evidence of identity theft. It seems clear from these statistics that child identity theft represents a significant problem in the U.S.
There are various types of identity theft, for example, financial, governmental, medical, and criminal. Child identity theft usually involves one or more of these types. Therefore, child identity theft is not a standalone category. It is important to keep in mind that each case involving a child’s identity requires multiple steps of correction. Furthermore, since the elapsed time between the crime and the moment of discovery may be extended over a period of years, child identity theft cases may be more serious and complex. The age of the victim is often times a factor considered in the mitigation steps, and what actions will be required.
As child identity theft becomes a growing concern for parents, many question why thieves target children’s identities. There are several factors why a child’s identity may be the perfect target. One of those factors is that parents would never think of checking a child’s credit history. Children should not have established credit histories because they are not 18-years-old; therefore, they are not of legal age to enter into a contract. One would never suspect any fraudulent activity. This gives the thieves the perfect cover-up, and certainly the necessary time to commit the crime and exploit the identity. A second factor is the wide open possibilities that the child’s identity represents. It provides a clean and fresh start – in any and every way you look at it. For instance, the Credit Reporting Agencies have no way of verifying whether a Social Security number (SSN) belongs to a minor. Therefore, a credit report is established and associated with the first pieces of personal identifying information received. A child’s identity may also be used for other purposes such as - employment, to receive medical services, or evade law enforcement violations, amongst others.
There is no one way to pinpoint how a child’s identity is stolen. Often times, it may be as a result of thieves creating a “fake” 9-digit number and the number happens to be a legitimate SSN assigned to a child. Another instance may be that thieves figured out the way SSNs were generated before it was even assigned by the Social Security Administration. Furthermore, it may be as a result of a stolen document containing the child’s SSN. Unfortunately, in some cases, the child’s identity may have been stolen by a child’s family member or relative.
Over the past year, child identity theft has been a widely covered topic in the media. With this exposure, the issue has become a growing concern for parents, government entities, credit reporting agencies and legislators alike. A child’s identity represents an opportunity that is surrounded by a combination of circumstances – often favorable to the thief.
'Trends in Child Identity Theft' was written by Gabby Beltran. Gabby is the Public Information Officer and a Bilingual Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center.
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