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Ring around the Social Security number. (Government Press Office)

Children Have to Worry About Identity Theft, Too

The rate of identity theft is five times higher among children than among adults

smithsonian.com

It’s not just adults who have to worry about identity theftone study reports that one in ten children have compromised Social Security numbers.

Bill Hardekopf at the Christian Science Monitor reports that nearly 10 percent of kids under 18 have had someone else use their Social Security number. Only about 0.2 percent of adults actually have the same problem. According to Hardekopf, identity thieves know that kids are easier targets because “children rarely use their Social Security number and parents usually do not monitor the child’s identity.”

Using a child’s Social Security number, these thieves can do everything they might do with an adult’s: open a line of credit, apply for government benefits, purchase homes and cars, get driver licenses and secure employment. The largest amount of fraud found in the study—which looked at 4,000 incidents of child identity theft—totaled $725,000, using the identity of a sixteen year old girl. Over three hundred of the victims were under five years old, and the youngest was just five months old. Take this anecdote about a kid named Nathan from Kentucky:

Nathan, a 14-year-old, had a credit history that went back more than 10 years. Several credit cards and a foreclosed mortgage were already in his credit history, all from a suspect living in California. The thief established good credit for the first 10 years and was able to finance a $605,000 home in CA through first and second mortgages. He also used the boy’s SSN to open several credit accounts.

Then, the home loans went into default and the bank foreclosed. Additionally, a credit account with over $2,000 in unpaid charges went into collections. His parents filed a police report and the fraud was assessed at over $607,000.

The researchers who did the study point out that parents are increasingly aware of the online risks like cyberbullying, but are generally unaware of the dangers of identity theft. And, according to Hardekopf, some states don’t even have a system to handle child identity theft. Delaware, Oregon and Maryland have all recently put in place laws that let parents set up a child’s credit identity and freeze that account until the child turns 18. Other states are considering following suit.

The researchers suggest that parents stay vigilant about their children’s identity, and if mail starts coming for a kid with things like pre-approved credit cards, that might be a sign that their identity has been used somewhere. “Put plainly,” they write, “it is not simply enough to guard your own identity in the 21st Century, you must also guard your child’s.” 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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