Even Kids Face ID Theft
If you think kids are rare targets for identity thieves, think again. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) got nearly 12,000 complaints of identity theft involving people age 17 or younger in 2005. That's up 78 percent since 2003.
Crooks from computer experts to purse snatchers can steal personal information and run up bills in victims' names. Clearing up the mess can be costly and stressful.
"You can do everything right and still become a victim," says Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego.
Even infants aren't immune. Parents get Social Security numbers for newborns to claim them as income tax dependents. Thieves who steal those numbers can get credit cards. They can seek loans and run other scams in your child's name. You may not see the damage until your kids become teens. By that time, your kids may face rejections for credit cards, college loans, and jobs because of the theft.
Who would give a baby a credit card? Companies may have no way to check an applicant's age, the ITRC says.
As children get older, they go online, "where they'll give the whole world their background," says Judith Collins, Ph.D., who teaches criminal justice at Michigan State University. "They purchase this, that, and the other thing online, download music [and] may not secure their computers. ... All of a sudden find themselves victims of all kinds of criminal activity, including identity theft."
What to do
Here's how to avoid problems:
Don't carry a child's Social Security card. Give the number only if you must. Complain if your school uses Social Security numbers to identify students.
Keep an eye on your child's Web use. Check privacy policies on sites they visit.
Tell your kids what information they shouldn't share with others.
Look at mail sent to children of all ages. Debt collection notices show something is wrong.
Consider checking your child's credit reports every year. (If there is no report, odds are there is no credit activity.)
Guard family computers with antivirus and antispyware programs.
Here's what to do if you suspect or find ID theft:
Place a fraud alert on credit reports in your child's name by calling one of the consumer reporting companies: Equifax, 800-525-6285; Experian, 888-397-3742; or TransUnion, 800-680-7289.
Close any accounts opened by fraud.
File a police report.
File a report with the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft).