As a proud parent of however many children one may have, it might never have crossed one’s mind why fraudsters would want to get their hands on Social Security numbers of minors.
But a 2018 child identity fraud study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research shows that more than one million children, with the majority being seven years old or younger, fell victim to identity fraud the previous year.
“Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America,” the Social Security Administration claims on its website.
The research further revealed that children were more likely to become victims of identity theft than adults following a data breach.
“These breaches can occur at different organizations that commonly have children’s data, including schools, doctors’ offices, daycares, and summer camps. Thieves may also target parents and try to get them to share their children’s Social Security number and other personal information,“ according to the financial site myFICO. “These attacks could come in a variety of forms, from phishing emails to dumpster diving. As is always the case, be cautious about what you share online and over the phone.“
Moreover, in what may be a surprise, “the fraudster isn’t always a stranger. In many cases, the thief may be a parent, family friend or relative who has access to the child’s SSN. Familiar fraud can be particularly difficult to deal with as you might not want to press charges against a close friend or family member,” it adds.
Children aren’t able to obtain a bank loan or sign up for a credit card on their own, but the lack of credit history could work in the favor of thieves.
“In a sense, they’re clean slates. Plus, parents rarely try to check their child’s credit, which means the fraud might not be detected right away,” according to my FICO.
“Rather than using the child’s identity directly, fraudsters often use a stolen SSN to create a synthetic identity,” the financial website states. “To do this, they combine the real SSN with fake identifiers, such as a fake name and date of birth. They can then use the synthetic identity in many of the same ways, but there’s even less of a chance that the SSN holder will find out. And, in some cases, the same stolen SSN gets used to create dozens of synthetic IDs.”
Preventing Identity Theft
For most victims of child identity theft, the parents necessarily won’t be aware until years later—perhaps when the minor tries to get his or her first bank account or loan. But before having to be mired in such an unsavory situation, there are indeed steps that parents can take right now to prevent identity theft.
“Limit what you share about your children on social media. While you may want to share big announcements and pictures online, the information (such as their birthday) could be compromising,” the website asserts.
“Don’t share their SSN,” the website warns. “Question whether the other person or organization truly needs to know your child's SSN. And ask whether you can share other information instead. Keep private documents secure. You may also want to get a safe and keep all your private documents locked up, including birth certificates, Social Security cards and tax forms.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.