Adam Brackin was in fourth grade when his mother, Angie, received a phone call from the IRS demanding to know why Adam had not reported thousands of dollars in income on his taxes. Angie Brackin soon discovered that someone had stolen her child’s identity and was using his Social Security number (SSN) to apply to jobs, rent homes, purchase cars and run up thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
The family immediately attempted to reclaim their child’s identity and undo the damage to his credit, but it took many years before the identity thief was arrested and charged for his crime. By then Adam was in high school and the thief had been using his identity for 14 years, having stolen Adam’s SSN a few days after Adam was born.
Adam was one of the luckier victims. Many people who suffer identity theft as children do not realize that a crime has been committed until they are adults. Dr. Axton Betz was a college student when she realized something was wrong. She began receiving court summonses from collection agencies that claimed she had huge unpaid balances on credit accounts that had been opened when she was 13. Betz spent years trying to clean up her record and she still faced consequences.
“I had to pay higher interest rates for my car loan and the credit cards I legitimately obtained. My first car loan was 18.23 percent and my first credit card had a 29.9 percent APR. I’ve had to pay deposits for electric, phone and cable,” she told ABC News.
For Betz the shocks did not end at finding out she was a victim of child identity theft. She also discovered that the thief was her own mother. Not only had Pamela Betz stolen her daughter’s identity, she had also stolen her husband’s and compromised his father for a large amount of money.
Dr. Betz’s story is not uncommon. According to Carnegie Mellon CyLab’s Child Identity Theft study, friends and family members are the primary culprits for child identity theft, often to circumvent bad credit ratings due to their own debt.
It’s important that the children in our lives do not have their financial identities destroyed before they are old enough to use them. Parents and other guardians should take these steps to help protect their children from identity theft:
- Keep documents secure: A child’s birth certificate and Social Security card should always be kept safe. Store all documents with your child’s sensitive information on them in a safe place. Shred any paperwork you mean to throw out.
- Protect their SSN: Many organizations, such as schools and hospitals, will request a child’s SSN as a form of identification. It is important to ask such institutions how they protect your child’s data and what they use SSNs for. If there are any alternative forms of identification you can offer instead of an SSN, use them.
- Monitor mail: Be aware of mail you receive that is addressed to your child. Pre-approved credit card offers are especially concerning, because they are only sent to applicants with credit histories.
It can also be helpful to sign up for identity theft services geared towards children. These services can scour data sources to search for activity that may suggest that your child’s information is being used illegally.