Does your preschooler have a mortgage or a maxed out credit card? It sounds like a trick question, doesn't it? Yet Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor found children under five are now the prime target of identity thieves.
Small children are the perfect choice for criminals because they have a clean slate. They haven't applied for credit cards or student loans, making their social security numbers especially valuable.
A recent study found children under five are the fastest growing group of victims of identity theft. Often, their parents have no idea that someone is using their child’s name and social security number to apply for a line of credit.
"They can take a child's social security number and go out there and use it for 12, 13 maybe 14 years without ever getting caught," said Mike Prusinski, a certified identity theft risk management specialist with Tiversa.
The thieves may apply for a mortgage or max out a credit card, or use the social security number to get free medical care. And then, there's the problem with immigration.
"We have people coming into the country who want to work and they have to have a social security number. What's the best way to get it? Go to the black market and just buy it," said Prusinski.
One third of identity thieves are friends or relatives, with a checkered past, who need credit they can't get on their own.
Then there are hackers who break into databases, along with the criminals who phish for information. And finally, there are the criminals who break into your computer using file sharing programs like the ones your kids to download music.
Rick Wallace is security expert at Tiversa. He showed me how easy it was for thieves to steal a tax return.
"A copy of their return was saved on their computer, and then when the installation took place for the file sharing application, it indexed this tax return and made it available for whoever wants to download it around the world,” said Wallace, the director of Special Operations for Tiversa.
It's a gold mine of information that was sold on the black market.
"Social security number, full address, the children's full names, and their social security numbers," said Wallace as he pointed to the return.
And it's all there in black and white because someone didn't want to pay 99-cents for a song. The file sharing program allowed the criminal access to everything that was saved on the computer.
Rick did a quick search for me and came up with 76 tax returns from people in the Pittsburgh area that were being traded on the black market.
I asked, "So all of these people have had their tax returns stolen?" Wallace replied, "Yes. And their returns are in the hands of bad guys."
To protect your child's identity:
- Keep documents with their social security number locked up.
- Make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date.
- Know the risks of file sharing programs.
- Watch out for phishing schemes that ask you to click on an unfamiliar link.
"If your information gets out that way, it can go globally and you really have no way to stop it," said Prusinski.
If you suspect your child's identity has been stolen, check with the credit bureaus.
If your child has a fraudulent credit report, put a freeze on their credit and then file reports with your local police and the Federal Trade Commission.
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