One of the great joys of watching your kids grow up is watching them find their identity. Unfortunately, someone else may be watching it, too. That makes keeping your kids safe more challenging, and important than ever.
Identity thieves have long preyed on the identities of children, knowing that they can easily misuse their Social Security numbers — possibly for years — before anyone finds out. In a new twist, a number of shady businesses have sprung up actively selling the Social Security numbers of children to buyers who have less-than-stellar credit. They get away with it by artfully describing the number as a “credit privacy number”, or “CPN”. As soon as they’re no longer of use, CPN buyers dump the stolen identities and then purchase more.
CPNs are being packaged and sold as a way for consumers who have seen their credit scores hurt in the recent recession to bump up those scores by starting over with a new and clean score. But CPNs are much more likely to be used by fraudsters who run up massive debts using the compromised identity, then move on to the next identity as soon as the previous one has been red flagged.
Just How Easy Is It to Get Your Own CPN?
It took one security expert less than sixty seconds of surfing to find a website offering to sell a “CPN Package” that included a new Social Security number, a kit explaining how to use it to “restore your credit,” and a new credit card with a $500 limit — all for just $300.
So, How Do Thieves Get the Numbers in the First Place?
They use data collection and Web-crawling software to harvest the Social Security numbers of kids from websites around the world. Social Security numbers can still be easily found on many websites, often as a result of either mistakes or just lax security by businesses and government agencies entrusted with those numbers.
But, Why Kids’ Social Security Numbers?
It’s because children’s numbers are considered “clean” or “golden”. They’re unused and, therefore, provide the new user with a clean credit slate to start over. It’s also easy to get away with because the rightful owners of these numbers (the kids) don’t check their credit reports and won’t find out until years later.
One More Reason
Many schools still use Social Security numbers for student identification, which means that your kids can be vulnerable to identity theft from their first day at school. In fact, schools have become a gold mine for identity thieves. An average school can have as many students and staff as a small bank or credit union has customers. Each one of those students is a complete identity just waiting to be stolen — name, home address, parent information, and even their Social Security number.
But unlike banks and credit unions, most schools don’t have the money or the skills to protect that treasure trove of highly valuable information from would-be thieves. And if hackers don’t make it to this data first, an insider might.
Here are a few ways you can protect your kids:
- Occasionally check all three credit bureaus — Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion® — to see if they have a credit report under your child’s Social Security number.
- If they don’t have a credit report under your child’s SSN (and normally they shouldn’t), then it’s unlikely that thieves are using it to obtain new credit.
- If any of the bureaus do have a credit report under a Social Security number belonging to your child, chances are he/she has been a victim of identity theft at some point.
- Talk to your kids about the risks of identity theft. They should not know their Social Security number yet, but you should caution them to avoid revealing any personal information, especially online, in school, and on social networking sites.
- More About Protecting Your Kids from Identity Theft
- Help protect your kids with Identity Guard® kID Sure®.