Identity Theft: The Perfect Victim - Your Child

by: Brenda Mohney

Many of us work hard to protect our identities, but fail to think about protecting the identities of our children. The fact that they are underage gives us the impression that children’s identities are not as valuable as our own, when in fact; their identities can be even more valuable!

How can a child’s identity be more valuable that an adults?

A child’s identity is fresh and clean and ready to be given a first chance by creditors. It has no criminal record associated with it and it is unlikely that a child will check their financial records for years, giving the identity thief plenty of time to use the child’s identity undetected. Many credit reporting agencies are unable to verify the age of the applicant.

What can be done with a child’s identity?

An identity thief can use the child’s identity to get jobs, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards, open electric and telephone accounts and even start a business.

Who would steal a child’s identity?

You! Parents are the majority of culprits who steal a child’s identity. Followed by step-parents and family members and then outside people.

Parents already have access to the child’s information and can easily prevent the child from learning of the theft until they are of age and need to obtain car loans, school loans, credit cards, ect.

A parent falls on ‘hard times’ and figures they will ‘borrow’ the child’s identity for a few months until they get their finances straight again. Most parents who fall into this trap are already poor financial managers. They usually have every intention of paying off the credit card, loan, electric bill or whatever they have put in the child’s name, but normally they continue to fall on ‘hard times’ and end up ruining the child’s credit instead of fixing their own.

Step-parents and other family members fall into the same category as parents when it comes to ‘borrowing’ a child’s identity. Many family members have the same access as parents and often the same financial ‘reasons’, but a family member may also have other motives. Though rare, they may use the identity theft as a method of reprisal. A step-parent may not get along with their step-child or they may be in the process of a divorce from the child’s parent and use identity theft as a way of retribution. Family relationships can often be volatile and may be the basis of identity theft. Using identity theft as a method of revenge is rare and it is more likely that identity theft will stem from financial difficulties.

Prosecuting Parents

Parental identity theft is difficult for authorities to prosecute. Once they are of age, most young adults know it is wrong and realize the ramifications of what has been taken from them, but the perpetrator is still their parent and the parent-child bond often prevents the child from filing a complaint. The child may feel guilty about prosecuting their own parent, especially if the parent used the accounts or money to purchase items for the child or provide other benefits for the child such as cable TV, electric, cell phones, ect. This mindset often keeps the child from filing a complaint.

Difficult Situation

Worse yet, this forces the child into an difficult situation. To prove the accounts were opened illegally the child must file a police report which could result in the parent being arrested and prosecuted. If the child refuses to send ‘poor mom or dad’ to jail, then the child must take responsibility for the account and pay off all debts in their name.

Taking that first step into the ‘real world’ as a young adult should be exhilarating and exciting. It is often difficult enough without having the burden of parental identity theft complicating matters for the child.

How can a child fix parental identity theft?

  • File a complaint –
  • Of course, the ideal solution would be to file a complaint and make the parent or family member take responsibility for their actions. But many children will not take this route.
  • Have the accounts put in the parents name –
  • Victims can have an agreement written between them and their parents which will give liability of the accounts to the parents. Some companies may not accept the agreement without a large payment on the debt. Victims may want to use a lawyer if the child/parent relationship is strained.
  • Get a new SSN number –
  • If the victim is just starting out, they may want to consider changing their social security number. The social security administration does not recommend this solution, but some victims may not have an alternative.

Child identity theft with technology

At the other end of the spectrum is the identity theft criminal who is a stranger to the child and family. This type of identity theft is becoming more prevalent as more kids are giving free reign to wander the Internet. It could be a person the child has met on the internet and has been talking to. I am sure you have heard by now how perpetrators on the internet can be very clever in enticing a child to give out personal information.

It could be a hacker who has gained access to your computer, wireless network, or your bank’s database. Your computer could have Spyware on it revealing personal information. Your child could fall victim to phishing emails.

Solutions

  • Obtain a credit check
  • Check your children’s credit with a free credit report compliment of the government. A new federal law is being enacted that will allow people to obtain a free credit report once per year from each credit agency. The law was initiated in December 2004 for the western states and by September 1, 2005 all people, regardless of location, will be entitled to a free credit report.
  • Monitor your schools
  • Our kid’s school created ID cards for all the kid in the school…one problem, the number on the card with the child’s photo was their social security number. Many parents complained and the school reissued ID cards with alternative numbers to protect the children’s identity. Remember - a little complaining can create a beneficial change.
  • Warn kids about giving out personal information
  • I know, I know, our kids have been drilled endlessly about the dangers of giving out personal information, whether on the phone, over the Internet or in person. My kids often get irritated when I try to warn them again and again, but be persistent; many children are just no match for online predators, even if they think they are.
  • Monitor your children’s web surfing.
  • Remind them to look for privacy policies on the web sites they visit and have them obtain your approval before giving any information on these sites.
  • Monitor your children’s mail. If they start to receive countless offers for credit cards and/or debt collection notices, then you may have cause to worry and should look into the matter further.
  • Protect your family’s computer system
  • Upgrades - Always make sure your system has the latest software upgrades and operating system updates and patches.
  • Firewalls - Always use a firewall, make sure your system has the latest version and test your computer for vulnerabilities.
  • Networks - B e sure to read all the manuals that come with your wired or wireless network hardware and software and set all the security features that are available to you. Use complex SSIDs and passwords and change them on a regular basis. Regularly scan your wireless network to identify vulnerabilities.
  • Spyware – Tell your children not to install programs that contain Spyware on your system, or better yet, give your children a limited user account on your system that will prevent them from being able to install programs. Scan for Spyware regularly.
  • Phishing - Tell your children to never click a link in an e-mail message. Instead, have them manually type the URL address into the web browser. Just remember this rule - 'If in doubt, throw the e-mail out!'
  • Anti-virus – Make sure your children never open e-mail attachments, use p2p file sharing programs, or run copied disks and CDs. Make sure your antivirus program is always running and definition files are always up-to-date.
  • Trojans – Again, make sure your children never open e-mail attachments, use p2p file sharing programs, or run copied disks and CDs. Many antivirus programs also detect Trojans but the havoc a Trojan can make in your life warrants installing and running a specific Trojan scanning program created specifically to find Trojans. A virus may cause you to lose your information, but a Trojan can cause you to lose your information into the wrong hands.

Even though identity theft is on the rise at an alarming rate, a little bit of diligence can decrease you and your child’s chances of being an identity theft victim.

We work hard for our credit and finances; let’s not make the identity theft criminal’s job any easier.

About The Author:
Brenda Mohney - Founder of Identity Theft Security, a site dedicated to providing tools and tips to help people protect their identities. She is also founder of Azure Web Solutions, a web development company providing web solutions to small businesses. Brenda currently works as a web developer at Penn State York.