Home > Identity Theft > The Invisible Victims of Identity Theft: Our Kids

Comments 0 Comments

Somewhere between 10 million and 16 million Americans get “got” by fraudsters working the seams of identity-related crime every year. The methods are many and various. There are, of course, the familiar scams and frauds, but one harder to detect area of exploitation is child identity theft.

So why are children a target for identity thieves? It’s called “runway.” A child’s Social Security number is pristine. There is no reason for a minor to use it in connection with any financial or credit-related transaction before reaching the age of 18—when he or she then becomes legally responsible for any contract they sign. Consequently, there’s been no need for them, or their parents, to check their credit.

A pristine Social Security number in the hands of a skilled identity thief can be a ticket to truckloads of credit and significant cash. It holds the promise of an undisturbed romp for 15 years or more. Just think of all the bank accounts that could be opened; all the credit cards, personal loans, student loans, car loans and mortgages that could be secured; all the apartments that could be rented; all the smartphones, utilities and cable and Internet services that could be obtained; all the medical treatments, prescriptions and devices that could be purchased; all the tax refunds that could be mined; all the illegal jobs that could be obtained; and all the welfare or unemployment benefits that could be had with a gaggle of unblemished, unmonitored Social Security numbers and more than a decade of wide-open road?

Depending on the study, it is estimated that somewhere between 140,000 and 400,000 children become victims of identity theft every year. That truly is an estimate, because most children who become victims have no clue that they are being exploited. When they finally discover the trespass, they learn very quickly that there is no magic switch to make the pain go away. In fact, they are guilty until proven innocent.

Many have absolutely no idea how it happened, and it takes time to track this down and document everything. And while the situation is being investigated and (maybe) resolved, their credit has been decimated and their ability to participate in the economy is limited. Countless victims can’t get a loan, find someone to rent them an apartment, get a utility or cellphone turned on without a hefty deposit, open their mailbox without receiving some letter referencing a creditor they’ve never heard of, or get and keep a job in an already difficult job market, and they even, on occasion, get arrested for a crime they didn’t commit in a state where they have neither lived nor visited.

Take for just one example Cameron Noble.

The run-around was exquisite. That is, exquisitely painful. When Cameron Noble first tried to resolve his identity theft problem, he was told that there had been no crime, just an error. There had been no malfeasance. Noble was merely the victim of a keystroke error.

So how did he know a crime had happened? The 22-year-old Utah resident started receiving notices that his wages were being garnished for back payments on child support in California.

When Cameron was seven, his parents got the first inkling that something was amiss after receiving a notice from the IRS that their son was too old to qualify as a dependent on their joint tax return. After disputing the matter, they were told their son was a middle-aged, deadbeat dad who lived two states over in California. After some back and forth, the Nobles thought they had put the matter to rest. They had not, as was evidenced 15 years later when then the wage garnishment began.

When he tried to resolve the matter, Noble’s credit reports all came to his address, but with the thief’s name. In 2007, his tax refund was withheld to pay for the thief’s child support, and in 2008 he got a notice that he owed back taxes.

Understandably, he asked the Social Security Administration to issue him a new Social Security number, but they refused because they believed the explanation was, indeed, a keystroke error. After Noble enlisted help from resolution experts, the Social Security Administration finally agreed that his was a case of identity theft.

Often a parent (or guardian) is the first line of defense when the whisper of a problem surfaces: an unexplained call from a debt collector, a pre-approved credit card offer in their child’s name, a blocked federal or state tax return due to a previous filing in the same tax year using their child’s Social Security number, an application for their child’s first driver’s license denied due to accumulated tickets or reckless driving charges in another state (or because a valid driver’s license already exists in their name). Unfortunately, many parents miss these early warning signals. You don’t have to be one of them.

The above is an adapted excerpt from Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, which hits bookstores everywhere Black Friday.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: kiankhoon

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team