It was stunning: the arrest of 8 suspects accused of using stolen Social Security numbers to rack up $420,000 in fraudulent purchases. The ages of the victims whose Social Security numbers were allegedly stolen–11 to 15 years old.
How does that happen? In these times Americans are required to have Social Security numbers practically from the moment they are born. Most people who work have to pay Social Security taxes, when parents file their income tax returns, they have to lost their children with their Social Security numbers.
Melanie McGovern, spokesperson for the Upstate Better Business Bureau said once parents have received their child’s Social Security number they need to check if the child has a credit report.
“A lot of times, what we find at BBB is people will call and say, ‘why does my 16 year old have a credit report?’ It is because somebody took their identity.“
Government figures show a child is thirty-five times more likely to have their identity stolen than an adult, and this week’s bust of a reputed identity theft ring seems to bear that out.
New York State Police Trooper James O’Callaghan said younger children are prime targets for identity thieves because they are not really using their Social Security numbers, or applying for credit.
“They are not buying vehicles, they are not opening checking accounts, they are not doing these type of things. So ultimately what [the crooks] are thinking is hey, they won’t even know until about 5 years from now.“
Young children are like a blank slate, said McGovern, “Kids don’t have car loans or mortgages or student loans, they have nothing. So their Social Security is pristine, and that is what the identity thieves are looking for.“
McGovern recommends parents put a freeze on their child’s credit with the three national credit bureaus, and keep their credit frozen until they are old enough to need credit.
“When you freeze your credit the credit bureaus will give you a PIN, and you want to keep that with your Social Security card, with all of your other important papers, because if you do need to thaw your credit, you need that PIN. If you don’t have it, it could take you months to prove who you are.“
McGovern and O’Callaghan urge parents in the strongest of terms to talk to their children often about sharing information on social media.
The New York Attorney General has an Identity Theft Kit with tips for protecting your identity, and what to do if you or your child are a victim of identity theft. Identity theft should be reported immediately to police, and the Federal Trade Commission at the agency’s website.