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The perfect crime: Stealing a child's identity

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 8:34 a.m. MDT

Child identity theft is on the rise (Utah Attorney General) Child identity theft is on the rise (Utah Attorney General)

Beth Kobliner on Mint.com sets out the horror story: "Your teenager applies for her first credit card or student loan — and she's denied. Turns out, her identity was stolen years ago, and she's thousands of dollars in debt."

Even babies are not safe.

NPR talks about Carter Andrushko, a 5-year-old in Utah who had his identity stolen: "According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services ... Carter already has a job. In fact, according to that office, he's been working since before he was even born. That's what Carter's mother, Jennifer Andrushko, discovered when she applied for Medicaid in 2009 and found out that someone had been using Carter's Social Security number for years."

Sound unusual? It isn't.

Carnegie Mellon University describes how bad it is: "Based on scans of more than 42,000 U.S. minors' Social Security numbers (SSNs) made by Debix, an ID protection company, a recent report by Power illuminated some shocking findings. More than 10 percent of the sample children had another individual using their SSNs. Child identities were used for everything from purchasing homes and cars to obtaining credit card accounts and driver's licenses."

ABC News called it "a crime wave."

The New York Daily News said, "Minors reported more than 19,000 cases of identity theft in 2011, up from about 6,000 in 2003, according to Federal Trade Commission data."

Carnegie also put it this way: "Your three-year-old nephew may already have a driver's license, a gun permit and be in foreclosure on a four-bedroom house."

Credit reporting agency TransUnion says: "Children make a tempting target for identity thieves because theft of a child's identity may go undetected for years. After their child is born, most parents apply for a Social Security Number, which is all that's required to open most credit accounts. It could be years until a child applies for credit in his or her own name. This makes it easy for identity theft to go undetected for years and create serious consequences."

ABC News described what happened to Olivia McNamara who applied for her first credit card at the beginning of college and was denied. McNamara discovered someone had stolen her identity when she was 9. She had 42 defaulted accounts and was in debt $1.5 million.

"It's just really shocking and we just had no idea," she told ABC.

The Huffington Post tells about 31-year-old Stephanie McManis, who had her identity stolen when she was 12: "Every few weeks, (she) receives a phone call from a collection agency asking for someone she never met. She recently opened a letter from a bank threatening to sue her for defaulting on a loan she never took out. She checks her credit report monthly, disputing late payments on emergency room visits she never made."

"It's frustrating because I'm constantly having to jump through hoops," McManis told the Huffington Post. "I'm resigned to the fact that I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life."

TransUnion shares how to tell if your child's identity has been stolen: "Your child begins to receive suspicious mail, like pre-approved credit cards and other financial offers normally sent to adults, in his or her own name.

"You try to open a financial account for him or her but find one already exists, or the application is denied because of a poor credit history.

"A credit report already exists in his or her name. If the child has one, he or she may have been targeted already, since only an application for credit, a credit account, or a public record starts the compilation of a consumer credit file."

An article in the Deseret News tells how to check if your child has a credit report: "All three credit reporting agencies have automated systems for requesting credit reports. A semiannual phone call is a good way to check whether a credit account has been activated for a child. Call Equifax at 800-685-1111, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 800-916-8800."

Utah has a program to fight against child identity theft called the Child Identity Protection program. Its website is cip.utah.gov.

NPR describes what the Utah program does: "The Utah attorney general's office is now piloting an online child identity protection service. It allows parents to register their children, free of charge, for protection through the credit rating agency TransUnion. So far, about 4,000 children have been enrolled since the program was introduced in January."

The Federal Trade Commission also has information online about children's privacy at www.ftc.gov.

And just because children grow older, doesn't mean they grow wiser. Believe it or not, some young adults post photos of themselves online holding their new credit card, "Look what I got!" Identity thieves are, no doubt, more than glad to look at the card's numbers clearly visible in the photos.

Security Watch quotes Brian McGinley, senior vice-president of data risk management at Identity Theft 911: "Something so blatantly obvious as posting your credit or debit card number just speaks to the lack of awareness of what consumers think criminals can do with a set of numbers."

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