The Better Business Bureau and FBI are warning consumers to beware of scammers trying to sell them "credit privacy numbers" to help boost their credit scores.
These digits could actually be Social Security numbers belonging to children. FBI officials have been looking into the problem, which they discovered during their investigation of the mortgage fraud crisis. They say thieves are obtaining the numbers using computers to find those that are dormant.
"People can use them to establish fake credit and then run up that credit [line]," Chris Thetford, a spokesman for the BBB in St. Louis told Consumer Ally.
Here's how the scam works: the individual who buys the number could use it in place of his or her actual Social Security number to apply for a loan, for example. Chances are that someone running a credit check on the individual would not realize any fraud has been committed because the number is likely inactive since it's assigned to a child, Thetford said.
"So if you had a young child, somebody could use that number for 18 years before you would even know," he said.
The scammers are also misleading consumers by not calling them Social Security numbers when they sell them to individuals, identifying them instead as a credit profile, credit protection or credit privacy numbers.
Consumers who use these numbers are committing fraud and the children whose numbers have been stolen are at risk of having their credit histories ruined. The agency is urging parents to check the credit reports of their children regularly.
One in every four people or nearly 43.4 million people have a credit score below 599, meaning many consumers may be vulnerable to this type of theft as they look for ways to improve their credit. The magnitude of the scam, however, is unknown.
The BBB has a list of steps consumers can take to tackle their credit woes and avoid falling for traps such as fraudulent Social Security numbers.
Parents urged to monitor their children's credit reports