Identity Theft – Guard Your Children’s Social Security Numbers

Identity theft is a growing concern among Americans, and rates among the top five complaints received by states’ Attorney General’s offices. A stolen identity can lead to tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt in the victim’s name and it can take years to completely undo the damage done to the victim’s credit report. Identity thieves can successfully commit crime with as little as a driver’s license number or credit card number, but the ideal target of such criminals is the Social Security number. With that number in hand, the identity thief can pass themselves off as the victim and open credit card accounts, bank accounts, and even obtain home equity loans. As more Americans become aware of the problems posed by identity theft, consumers are doing more to protect themselves. This has inspired thieves to look to a new source of identities to steal, and they have found one. They are now stealing the identities of children.

Established in the 1930’s the Social Security Administration was set up to provide benefits for retired Americans. Taxes are withdrawn from the paychecks of eligible workers, and each worker is issued a Social Security number in order to keep track of his or her benefits. Over the years, and despite the intentions of those who created the system, the Social Security number has become a de facto national identity number. It is difficult, if not impossible, to engage in most financial transactions without providing that number to the other party in the transaction. In fact, the number itself has become as important as the name of the person who holds it. Over the years, criminals have discovered that by obtaining the Social Security number of someone else, all kinds of illegal activities are possible, including obtaining loans in the names of the owner’s of the stolen numbers.

With more people now aware of the potential of identity theft, consumers are more carefully protecting their personal information. As a result, thieves are now targeting the Social Security numbers of children. A law passed in 1989 requires parents of newborn infants to register for a Social Security number for their child. That child will probably not need that number until he or she is a teenager, when the number might be necessary to obtain a driver’s license, open a bank account, or get a job. In the meantime, the number is not only unused, but the theft of it may go unnoticed. Thieves who obtain a Social Security number of a child know that they can probably use it for a decade without being caught. How can you protect your child from identity theft? Treat your child’s personal information as if it were your own, and guard it carefully. Don’t give out the Social Security number of your child unless it is absolutely necessary, and if you aren’t sure if it’s necessary, ask. Some doctors and hospitals, for instance, request the number as a matter of course, but they may not actually need it. Check to see if your child has a credit report. You can obtain one for free at the free credit report Website. Your child, if not working, shouldn’t have a credit report, so if the credit bureaus have one on file, you may have a problem. A child’s personal information is as useful to an identity thief as that of an adult. Guard yours and your children’s identification carefully.