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Does your child have a bigger mortgage than you?

Although it sounds impossible, it isn’t. Identity thieves target children’s unused Social Security numbers and commit all kinds of crimes.

A Carnegie Mellon CyLab 2009-2010 study, the largest child ID theft report ever published, came to some sobering conclusions. First, 10.2 percent of children in the report had someone else using their Social Security number—that’s 51 times higher than the rate for adults in the same population.1

The participants of the study had been notified that their personal information may have been compromised during a data breach. However, the non-scientific report notes that 78 percent of the children whose information was stolen were victimized prior to the data breach events.

"The data does not project or imply any estimate of total number of child identity theft incidents, or what percent of children’s identities are stolen, or what percent of total number of identity theft incidents involve children," reads the study's methodology.

"What this data does is provide some disturbing evidence that identity thieves are targeting children due to the unique value of unused Social Security numbers."  

And of course you’re wondering what an identity thief could possibly do with a child’s Social Security number. After all, children don’t even work. Well, the CyLab study discovered that child IDs are used to do everything from buying a home or automobile, open credit card accounts, get a driver’s license or even to get a job.

The largest fraud in the study? $750,000, was committed against a 16-year-old girl. No, this not a typo. How about the youngest victim? Five months old.1

Children’s identities are a gold mine. There is no credit history to get in the way and the child usually won’t access information for a very long time—so the likelihood of getting caught is low. Identity criminals can attach any name and birthdate to these Social Security numbers, and they can even sell them to other shady characters.

CyLab suggests these steps to lower the potential for your child’s identity to be stolen.

  • Watch for mail in your child’s name. If they suddenly begin to get pre-approved credit card or financial offers, they could have an active credit file.
  • Make sure your children understand how important it is to keep their data private, including on social networking sites.

Parents are advised to monitor their children’s identity just as diligently as their own. The impact of identity theft on a child’s credit can be substantial. As they grow toward adulthood, damaged credit can affect everything from the ability to get a student loan, car loan, apartment or even a job.

1 Carnegie Mellon CyLab. www.cylab.cmu.edu

Federal Trade Commission. “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book For
January – December 2011.” February 2012.

Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.