Imagine learning that your ten-year-old child owns a home somewhere across the country or that your toddler owes thousands of dollars in income taxes for a job he or she has never held. If those scenarios seem unfathomable, they're all too real for families whose children are victims of identity theft. Because a child's identity is pristine and often remains unchecked for more than a decade, it is uniquely desirable to identity thieves. Just as appealing to criminals is the fact that a Social Security [cnbc explains] number with a clean history can be attached to any name or date of birth. More at indentity theft
Steve Toporoff, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission's Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, says that while there is a feeling among industry insiders that child identity theft is a major problem, it is very difficult to quantify because, in most instances, people have no clue that they are victims until years after the fact. A recent study based on identity scans of over 40,000 children in the U.S. conducted by Richard Power, Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon CyLab, found 10.2 percent of the children in the report had someone else using their Social Security number. That figure is 51 times higher than the 0.2 percent rate for adults in the same population. Prior to the Internet age, child identity theft occurred most often at the hands of a relative who was using the minor's Social Security number to circumvent bad credit. While the Internet can serve as a wonderful resource tool for children, it can also bring a host of problems right to your doorstep. In addition to cyber-bullying and possible online predators, identity theft is now a problem, and it's going viral. More Usage, More Risk Children ages 8-18 spend an average of 10-plus hours per day on a variety of media, according to a recent study from the Kaiser Foundation, making it more important than ever to be aware of the risks involved. According to Norton's Online Family Report from 2010, 41 percent of children have had an anonymous person try to add them as a friend on a social networking site, 63 percent of kids have responded to online scams and 77 percent of kids have downloaded a virus. -œFrom our perspective at Norton and our knowledge of how common it is for kids to download malware -” two-thirds of kids in our global study have -” we know that it's most likely that cybercriminals will be the source of a young person's online identity theft,- says Marian Merritt, Internet Safety Advocate for Norton. -œEven having such valuable information as the child's Social Security number stored on a computer can lead to ID theft. Make sure your child doesn't use peer-to-peer file sharing software or otherwise risk cybercriminals having access to your private financial information.- Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe, the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' clinical report on social media and author of -œCyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Digital Kids in the World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media- points out that privacy settings are key, especially when it comes to online shopping, another area where children put their identity at risk. -œThe way young adults and teens get into trouble is you have debit cards or credit cards and you're putting your information online and the more of that stuff you do without keeping it private, the more you open up your identity to others,- O'Keeffe says. When it's Time to Investigate Unless there is a reason to believe that the child's data may have been compromised, Toporoff of the FTC says the mid-teens is a good benchmark age for when parents should begin looking into their child's credit. -œWe know of instances where loans have been taken out, mortgages have been taken out in children's names,- Toporoff says. -œIf that is the case, you want to know about that around age 15 or 16, so you can clean up the file before the child starts applying for college loans or car loans or employment.- For those who would like to take extra measures to ensure that their child's identity remains a blank-slate, third-party monitoring companies offer a variety of services that allow parents to keep an eye on it. Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of consumer services, for Intersections Inc., a provider of corporate and consumer identity risk management services, says his company will offer existing customers a chance to safeguard their children's identities when it rolls out its newest product, kIDSure, this fall. -œAs a company focused on all aspects of identity theft and personal protection of data, we just think this is a real opportunity to provide a real value to consumers because there's no real way to have an idea of what's going on out there for your kids Visit this page for details.