There’s a growing type of identity theft that most parents don’t know about: thieves stealing children’s identities to run up bills and destroy their credit.
The worst part is, it often goes undetected for years, until the child becomes a teenager and applies for a job or a student loan.
Zach Friesen knows all about it.
“Someone got a hold of my identity, just my social and my name, and was then able to borrow $40,000,” said Friesen.
That was when he was seven. Someone bought a boat under his name, and he didn’t find out for 10 years.
“When I was 17, I was in for my first job and was applying for schools, for universities; was denied student loans, denied a job and found out that it was a $40,000 houseboat in my name.
Becky Maier from the Better Business Bureau says: “If a parent doesn’t know the signs to look for, they could be seniors in high school, seniors in college, before they find they have thousands of dollars in debt.”
Maier showed us how thieves are selling social security numbers that have no credit history attached to them. She found one for sale for $800.
So how do thieves get the numbers?
In Friesen’s case, police believe someone got his information from a pediatrician’s office.
Experts say parents should avoid giving out their children’s social security numbers.
Maier said, “If you can get away with not giving it away, that’s the best way to do it.”
Experts say parents should challenge kids’ sports organizations to find other ways to track players, and schools in Pennsylvania shouldn’t need them because they now have something called PA Secure ID.
Look out if your child is getting credit card offers or calls from telemarketers. You can also check to see if your child has a credit report.
Friesen, who has become an educator on this subject, says you want to be told that no report exists. But some experts offer a caution.
While adults can go to AnnualCreditReport.com once a year to get a free report on themselves, some experts say requesting a credit report on your child could backfire.
Rob Vamosi, from Javelin Strategy and Research which studies identity theft, said, “You don’t want to order a credit report. You want them to look for a credit header. You want them to compare the social security number with the fact that the file exists or not.”
He says by actually ordering a report, especially year after year, credit bureaus may create a file on your child and that could make it easier for thieves.
If you think your child is a victim, call police and the Federal Trade Commission.
Friesen is still dealing with trouble over the theft.
“My credit score was very, very bad,” he said. “When I cleared my name, it didn’t clear the negative score that I got.”
The following websites offer more information on child identity theft:
Federal Trade Commission
Annual Credit Report
Identity Theft Resource Center