Children are the fastest growing group being targeted for identity theft. A study conducted by the Carnegie Mellon Cylab in 2011 found that children were targeted at a rate 51 times that of adults for unused social security numbers.
There are several reasons children are targeted:
- They have no existing credit issues;
- Because they have not established credit yet, the theft is often not discovered for years until the child tries to establish credit;
- Unused social security numbers have unique value to ID thieves.
The study warns, “One reason that minor SSNs are so valuable is that there is currently no process for organizations, like an employer or creditor, to check what name and birth date is officially attached to that SSN. As long as an identity thief has an SSN with a clean history, the thief can attach any name and date of birth to it.”
Additionally, social security numbers assigned to children born between 1990 through June 2011 are easier to predict from public data than before or after that time period, when the SSA began issuing a randomized number series.
The study also found that there were many cases of theft where more than one fraudulent name was associated with a single child’s identity. So not only are the thieves stealing the identity, they are sharing it.
What can parents do to protect their children’s identities?
- There is no requirement for parents to apply for SSNs for their newborns. Wait until it is needed to make application.
- Order your childrens’ credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies every year here. Federal law allows individuals to request one report per year at no charge. Parents can make the request on behalf of their children.
- Contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian) in order to have your child’s credit file suppressed, in the event your child has one. Be aware that when you opt your child out of pre-approved credit card offers, a credit file is created for your child.
- Watch for pre-approved credit card offers or other financial offers in your child’s name. It could be a sign of an open credit file.
- Be protective of your child’s SSN. You do not have to supply it to doctors, camps, daycare centers, or in many other instances.
Information collected at school
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests the following with regard to information collection by your child’s school:
“Many school forms require personal and, sometimes, sensitive information. Find out how your child’s information is collected, used, stored, and thrown away. Your child’s personal information is protected by law.”
Learn about three federal statutes intended to protect childrens’ identities, but realize they may not always apply due to loopholes or recent weakening of the statutes to pave the way for data collection.
FERPA - was weakened by the USDE in January 2012 to expand who and how data can be shared
PPRA - only applies to REQUIRED federal surveys, not ones administered in school but announced as “voluntary”
- Consider opting out of school directories and communications at the beginning of each school year.
- Write a letter to your school, refusing to have your child participate in any online or personal surveys without your "express written and informed consent"
- Consider refusing to have your child participate in standardized testing such as PARCC
More information on child identity theft