Lassa: Identity Thieves can Target Kids
Julie Lassa. (Stock photo)
By State Senator Julie Lassa
Imagine you’re a young couple excited about buying your first home – only to find out that one of you has a Social Security number tied to thousands of dollars of unpaid debt. Or you hear from the IRS that your child is listed on somebody else’s tax return.
Stories like these have become more prevalent as children become a growing target of identity theft. Identity theft has already become more costly than all of the other property crimes combined, including theft, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Of the 13 million Americans whose identities were stolen in 2013, a growing number of the victims were children. According to a 2012 survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center, 1 in 40 families with children under 18 had at least one child whose personal identity was compromised. The most common target for thieves is the child’s Social Security number.
Why would anyone steal a child’s identity? To begin with, the innocence of children works against them. Kids typically have no credit history or criminal record, so their identity can be useful to adults who have pasts they’d rather hide. Secrecy is another factor: because children don’t make major purchases or use credit cards, no one is checking their credit histories, so often no one learns that their credit has been compromised by an identity thief for years.
Unfortunately, another factor that puts children at risk is the adults in their lives. They may have access to the child’s personal records and they may share a last name, making it easier for them to use Social Security numbers or other information to set up a false identity. The Identity Theft Assistance Center survey found that 27 percent of victims know the individual responsible for the crime.
The fact that a victim may have been a minor when their identity was compromised doesn’t make it any easier to repair the damage. Young adults often have to work for years to clear their credit histories or correct government database entries in order to get on with their lives.
Fortunately, parents can protect their kids by knowing the warning signs of identity theft and taking steps to prevent anyone from accessing credit information about their children. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the signals that a child’s identity may have been stolen include receiving calls from collection agencies or credit card companies, or offers for financial services, in the child’s name. A child or family member may be denied government benefits because another account using that Social Security number already exists. The child may also be contacted by the Social Security Administration or the IRS for employment confirmation or to collect back taxes; parents may be told their child’s information is already listed on another tax return.
If you suspect your child’s identity may have been stolen, you can write to the consumer reporting agencies to request a free copy of any credit report that has been created for your child. You can also prevent credit problems in the first place by “freezing” your child’s credit report. Thanks to a new law I cosponsored, the Child Credit Protection Act, parents and guardians can direct credit companies either to prevent searches of any account that has been created in the child’s name, or to create an account and then freeze it. The freeze can be lifted when the child is old enough to apply for credit.
To learn more about identity theft, how to freeze your child’s credit, or to file a complaint, visit the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Office of Privacy Protection online at www.privacy.wi.gov or call 1-800-422-7128 toll free.