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Identity Theft: It's Not Just for Grownups

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Kate Tuttle: These days, we're all aware of the dangers lurking online and at the bank -- a carelessly dropped ATM receipt or a cluelessly bad password can invite identity thieves to rummage through our private data, ruining our credit for years to come.
But according to identity-theft expert Adam Levin, many parents aren't aware that their children are just as vulnerable. Although only four percent of identity thefts involve kids, Levin says that these cases can be particularly devastating, simply because there are so many years of damage that a thief can do before the theft is discovered. All too often, a young person only finds out that her identity has been stolen when she applies for financial aid to go to college, or for a first summer job -- by which time someone could have done a decade's worth of unseen damage to her credit.

So what's a parent to do? According to Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911 (a company that helps consumers and organizations protect themselves from identity breaches and provides fraud resolution should one occur), protecting your kids should start early -- and educating them is half the battle. I spoke with Levin by phone.

Kate Tuttle: A lot of people are familiar with the idea of adult identity theft. Why are kids also vulnerable to having their identities compromised?

Adam Levin: Before they reach puberty, 400,000 young people a year become victims. The reason why a child is such a rich target for identity theft -- and a great deal of it occurs within the family unit, either by a sibling or a parent -- is because nobody ever checks the credit report of a child. In some cases, [thieves] could have a 10- or 15-year run with someone's identity before there would be any chance that somebody would find out about it.

KT: What can parents do to protect their families?

AL: You can communicate directly with the credit-reporting agencies and ask them to check to see if there's a file on your child. It's where you need to be ever-vigilant. If you get a strange call from a creditor, if you start to see mail coming in with pre-approved credit offers for your child .... Of course, years ago credit was so plentiful that offers were coming in for people's dogs. It means you have to be careful when you carry around any document that has personal identifying information of your child. Many young people get social security cards, and there are instances where parents will take that social security card and place it in a purse or wallet, and then that purse or wallet is stolen; now someone has access to not only your information, but your child's. There's a thing called "synthetic identity theft" wherein [thieves] take your name and address, my social security number and a third person's birthdate, put it all together and essentially create a bionic person. There are different kinds of identity theft. The first is financial -- that's the one we're most familiar with. Then there's medical identity theft. There have been instances when the identities of children were used to secure passports. The identities of dead children in particular are used for this purpose.

KT: It all sounds so daunting. Should parents be checking their children's credit history?

AL: Yes. Go to, which is the government-mandated site, as opposed to the minstrels. [momlogic note: Levin is referring here to the musical ads for, which paradoxically is not actually free.] If there's an absence of an existing credit report, that's a pretty good first indicator that you don't have a problem with your child's information.

KT: That means nobody's created a report because there's been no activity?

AL: Right. Never carry a social security card in your wallet. Don't give kids their social security cards or numbers before they know what to do with them.

KT: So even though we're encouraged or even required to get social security numbers for our kids at birth, we should really hang on to those cards until they need them?

AL: Right. Put it in a very safe place. There's been a problem in some sports leagues where kids are required not just to present a birth certificate to confirm their ages, but also to submit it. If you're ever required to submit a birth certificate for any reason, you need to find out how they intend to secure it. There's another area in which we need to be more careful, and that's social networking. If your child is going to go to any of these sites, caution them and monitor them to make sure they're not leaving their birthdates behind. Make sure they're not responding to these quizzes, which are designed to elicit as much personal identifying information on them as possible. Oftentimes, these quizzes are not run by the site; they're run by people who appear to be friends but who can be cobbling that information together and ultimately using it for purposes that are not in the best interests of the people they're victimizing.

KT: How should parents educate their kids about identity theft? What should we be telling kids, and at what ages, about protecting their private information?

AL: I think you should talk to kids right from the beginning. If it becomes just part of the daily routine -- like if you go in the house, you lock the house, so anything you can do to lock down your personal identifying information, you just do. For a nation as presumably literate as we are, it's shocking how financially illiterate we are. And financial literacy starts at home.

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656 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rita August 6, 2010, 11:30 AM

It’s very true. I was on FB the other day and noticed a fun looking quiz a friend posted, one of those question-and-answer types where you combine different things you like or your names or parents maiden names/ last names to make like your soap opera name, rap name, stuff like that. Based on this persons answers, I had enough information to probably hack her email or something. Not that I would! But everyone needs to be conscious of what they’re putting online. Even if you’re FB is private, who’s to say your friends or coworkers won’t try something?

Monica August 7, 2010, 9:12 AM

Yeah I saw this on the news the other day. Sad that things have gotten so bad that we have to guard our children’s credit. But then its also not uncommon for parents to try and use their children’s credit. I know a couple of people including my husband who was a victim of a parent using their credit before they turned 18. It was a Nightmare. Eventually she ‘fessed up to it and paid it. But trying to get them to stop calling was annoying. She got Sears Card and was paying it until she maxed it out up to 6,000 and couldn’t pay. He was the primary card holder and she was added on as the additional card holder. Found out that she got the card before he even finished high school. The only reason they came after my husband after she stop paying is because she filed for bankruptcy. Sad that people would be willing to ruin their children’s future for selfish means.

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Tee Morris August 9, 2010, 6:05 AM

Good morning, MomLogic. My name is Tee, I’m a dad, and this is my first posting here.

A lot of people regard identity theft as a very grown up thing, but children being targeted hardly comes as a surprise to me. Think about the “state of the art” in technology when we were growing up. I still remember as a teenager learning my Social Security Number and being kind of cavalier about where I shared it.

Now, with my own daughter’s PII (personally identifiable information), I am far more vigilant. We have to be as technology has caught up with the science fiction we watched when we were growing up. I’m not blaming technology, but I do think we as a society are so caught up in the convenience of tech (and this includes social media) that we tend to overlook details that others could exploit. I do not believe that we should ditch our iPads, lock down our smart phones, and hide from our computers; but I think we should treat the benefits of technology with far more respect. We need to understand what we are doing when we check in using Foursquare, responding to a Craigslist posting, or surrendering our SSN when signing up our children for day camps and online services. It is a responsibility, and we really need to start taking it seriously.

Janet Olson August 17, 2010, 4:41 AM

this has become such a common practice these days i became so angry last weekend when this thing happened to me i contacted this company and they recover my stolen identity info

Mia Callos October 5, 2010, 12:03 PM

Common sense and knowledge are your two best tools in the fight to protect your identity.
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