"Steal a child's identity — why in the world would you steal a child's identity?" This is a question that I often hear. The answer is both simple and logical. Children's identities — especially their Social Security numbers — are highly prized by identity thieves because they are "clean" in the sense that the Social Security numbers have not been used previously and will not raise any red flags if used to gain employment or to file a false income tax return seeking a refund.
Testimony at a recent U.S. House of Representatives hearing put at 75% the percent of undocumented workers who are able to gain employment using stolen Social Security numbers.
At that hearing various examples were brought up.
- A 9-year-old boy who was denied Medicaid because wages were reported on his Social Security number.
- A 13-year-old girl who was denied as a dependent on her family's tax return because she supposedly made too much money.
- An 11-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl whose Social Security numbers are being used by multiple people for work authorization.
Quite often the newly arrived immigrants do not know they are doing anything wrong. Often the immigrants who use these purloined numbers are themselves victims of unscrupulous lawyers or "consultants" who sell them so — called "credit protection numbers," almost always stolen children's Social Security numbers, saying they are to be used until the day when the workers get legitimate documentation.
A related question to why a child's identity is stolen is: who steals them?
There are many examples of individuals stealing children's identities for their own use. All too often it is a family member who has a poor credit history and wants to be able to obtain credit without their own records coming into the equation. We call this generational or familial identity theft and it happens all too often. Other cases are essentially crimes of opportunity where someone — usually at work — gets access to a child's personal information and uses it for their own purposes.
But in far more cases it is "organized crime" that steals a child's personal information. I'm not talking about organized crime in the Tony Soprano sense — although there is some recent evidence that individuals with connections to organized crime families are dealing with the buying and selling of children's' personal information.
Perhaps a better term then organized crime would be organized groups — or as the Justice Department calls them "identity theft fraud rings" — groups who acquire large batches of children's personal information and then either sell that information — often by using clandestine websites — or distribute that information to confederates within the group who then use the identities to establish retail accounts or obtain consumer credit cards to obtain merchandise that is easily converted into cash.
Some of these organized groups employ hackers who try to gain access to databases, such as school districts that still use Social Security numbers as student identifiers. Such databases are a goldmine for organized identity thieves. Other groups either subvert an employee of an entity with access to young people's records to steal the records or they go so far as to have a gang member secure employment with such an entity to gain access to files.
Make no mistake, your child's identity, especially their Social Security number, is a prime target for identity thieves.