Children Often Victims of Identity Theft

Adults aren't the only ones who have to worry about having their identities stolen.

Each year between 500,000 and 750,000 children living in the United States are affected by identity theft, according to law enforcement professional and former fraud supervisor Robert Chappell Jr., author of "Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know."

Out of all consumer complaints reported to the FTC in 2013, 6 percent of the victims were children.

And a study by Carnegie Melon's Cylab in 2009-2010 provided "some disturbing evidence that identity thieves are targeting children due to the unique value of unused Social Security numbers."

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A child's identity is a blank slate for thieves — unused Social Security numbers can be paired with any name and birth date for fake IDs and there's little chance of discovery since most parents don't monitor their children's identities.

The Saffell family of Tulsa, Okl. didn't know their 3-year-old son's identity had been stolen until the IRS denied their tax return this year because someone else had already claimed him as a dependent, Fox23 News reports. They are still unable to claim him, which means they now owe the IRS money rather than receiving a return and must wait until the investigations pan out to recoup.

"Because of privacy laws we’re not allowed to know the name of the person who stole our son’s identity, which I think is ridiculous. Where were the privacy laws when they took my 3-year-old’s Social Security number?" Violet Saffell told Fox23.

More commonly identity thieves will use a child's Social Security number to open new accounts, which may not come to light until the child is older and tries to rent an apartment or get a credit card. The Cylab study of about 40,000 children found 537 whose identities were tied to mortgages or foreclosures. The youngest victim in the study was 5 months old.

Stephanie McManis is 31 years old, yet she still receives collections calls and lawsuit threats about accounts opened under her name by identity thieves when she was only 12 years old, according to the Huffington Post.

There are many other stories like McManis's, whether the result of someone hacking a school district's computers or the child's own family members violating their trust. In Florida, the nation's hotspot for identity theft of any stripe, about 50,000 kids a year are victims of identity theft to the tune of $100 million annually, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

To help combat this problem, many states are drafting legislation to protect children from ID thieves. A new bill in Florida similar to an existing Wisconsin law proposes that parents and guardians would be able to open a file with one of the major credit bureau's in their child's name and then put a lock on it to keep potential fraud at bay.

Such laws are on the books already in Delaware, Oregon and Maryland with Texas and Illinois also considering similar laws. There's a national law already in place that requires credit checks on older foster children and offers help in resolving credit disputes and identity theft problems, since foster children are particularly vulnerable to this kind of violation.

Experts agree parents need to vigilantly guard their children's personal information and recommend monitoring their identities as well. Unfortunately, children who've had their identities stolen by their parents may be left to sort through these problems later as adults.

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