Magazine article State Legislatures

Identity Theft Strikes Young: Identity Thieves Are Targeting Children Who May Not Even Discover They've Had Their Personal Information Stolen for Several Years

Magazine article State Legislatures

Identity Theft Strikes Young: Identity Thieves Are Targeting Children Who May Not Even Discover They've Had Their Personal Information Stolen for Several Years

Article excerpt

The stories of children falling victim to identity theft are growing at an alarming rate. A college freshman starts receiving court summonses stemming from large, unpaid credit card bills tracked to her. The cards were made with her Social Security number, but without her knowledge, when she was only 13. A parent applies for Medicaid and discovers during the application process that someone has been using her 5-year-old son's Social Security number in employment applications since he was born.

A young couple tries to buy a first home, but the woman's credit score disqualifies them. Only then does she discover that her mother used her Social Security number to purchase a car and a mortgage following a nasty divorce that badly damaged her credit rating. The daughter had to decide whether to report her mother to the police in order to clean up her identity.

These cases, and many others like them, are happening to children with increasing frequency. Although identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission for the last 14 years, identity thieves targeting very young victims is a relatively new concern. "As someone who was the victim of identity theft more than 10 years ago, I fully understand the devastating effect such a crime can have on a person's short- and longterm financial standing," says Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Baker (R).

"The crime is especially heinous when perpetrated using the identity of a child, who often doesn't know his or her identity has been stolen until many years after the fact, when he or she first applies for college assistance or a credit card. This can lead to lifelong financial headaches and delayed enrollment in college until the situation can be resolved."

A Relatively Young Crime

Identity theft is generally defined as: The use of a person's personally identifying information--a name, Social Security number, credit card number or other financial information--without permission, to commit fraud, theft or other crimes.

After the enactment of the federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, the Federal Trade Commission created the Consumer Sentinel Network to collect consumers' complaints to share with law enforcement personnel. The secure, online database has since collected millions of complaints involving fraud and identity theft.

Every state now has a law regarding identity theft or impersonation. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have specific restitution provisions for identity theft that require thieves to reimburse victims. Five states--Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee--have forfeiture provisions.

Despite the laws, identity thieves continue to succeed at finding easy victims. And when they do, they can cause a lot of damage. In a recent survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, victims reported losing a total of $24.7 billion in direct and indirect costs because of identity theft in 2012. In fact, losses from identity theft exceeded the $14 billion in losses reported from all the other property crimes--burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft--combined.

Why Target Kids?

Among the 13 million consumers whose identities were stolen in 2013, are a growing number of children. One in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised, according to a 2012 survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center and the Javelin Strategy & Research group. The survey revealed that identity thieves most often steal children's Social Security numbers, since young children seldom have the credit histories acquired by adults, such as credit cards, bank accounts, licenses and financial statements.

Nevertheless, children's identifying information is very appealing to thieves who will often create "synthetic" identities using a child's Social Security number with a different date of birth to avoid detection. …

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