Children make tempting targets because they aren't going to be using their identities for a long time and parents don't usually monitor their identities, wrote report author Richard Power, of Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab cybersecurity research center.
The report took a look at identity protection scans of 42,232 children during 2009-10 who were a part of the Debix AllClear ID Protection Network after they were notified their IDs may have been compromised. Debix sells security services to corporations, and similar services to families via AllClear ID.The report showed 4,311 of the children -- 10.2% -- had their Social Security number stolen and in use by someone else, with the youngest victim only 5-months old. That is 51 times more frequent than the 0.2% of adults targeted for identity theft. The report based that number on 663 attacks against 347,362 adults listed in Debix AllClear ID.
Examples of stolen identity cited in the report are startling. In one case, a 17-year-old Arizona girl found herself $725,000 in debt, with 42 open accounts including mortgages, car loans and credit cards. Her Social Security number was linked to eight suspects. In another, a 14-year-old Kentucky boy was found to have a credit report that went back 10 years that included a foreclosed mortgage.
"Although the data's statistical significance is yet to be determined, it is certainly profoundly significant on a practical, human level to the thousands of children and families who have thus been victimized," Power wrote in the report. "Furthermore, from my perspective, having tracked the evolution of cyber crime over two decades, it is only common sense to surmise that the problem goes beyond those breached accounts included in this report, and that there are many thousands more children and their families at risk."
The report recommends parents take precautions to protect their children's identities including:
- Check for mail in the child's name, a warning sign of an open credit file.
- Teach children about the danger of sharing personal information online and make sure they understand the importance of privacy.
- Protect personal information by keeping in a safe place where others can't get to it.
- Take part in a free service that will repair identities if stolen.
The FTC recommended keeping vigilant about what information gets shared and report discrepancies to the federal agency. Child identity theft is part of a growing number of scams and is among the fastest growing segments of ID theft.
TransUnion LLC, one of the three credit reporting bureaus, said children are vulnerable targets because any identity theft could go undetected for years until that child applies for credit.
TransUnion spokesman Clifton M. O'Neal told Consumer Ally in an email the company "takes very seriously the unlawful use of information of a minor to obtain credit," and cautions of these red flags:
- A parent receives pre-approved credit card offers in the mail in the child's name.
- A parent tries to open a bank account for the child and finds one already in existence.