Children playing at the beach or on the local playground may seem a world away from high tech cybercrime.
But experts now say the innocence of childhood has become a new beachhead in the fight against stolen identities.
New scientific data mining shows that children are fast becoming the latest identity theft victims.
And many parents are unaware it’s even happening.
Parents such as Patricia Guiggey never even considered it until the I-Team asked her about the issue.
“I hadn’t even thought about it. I guess I’ll have to check and get credit reports on him starting now,” said Guiggey.
The CBS4 I-Team obtained a scientific research study which will soon be released nationally.
The research was conducted by Richard Power for the Austin, Texas, ID protection company named Debix.
The CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, helped draft and write the report.
Dr. Dena Haritos Tsamitis is the Director, Information Networking Institute at Carnegie Mellon and Director of Education, Training and Outreach at CyLab.
“The findings were rather surprising,” Dr. Haritos Tsamitis told I-Team Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock. “Parents need to take this very seriously.”
“As a parent, I track my credit report and make sure that my identity is safe,” said Dr. Haritos Tsamitis. “It honestly doesn’t occur to most parents to track that for their children as well.”
The study discovered that out of more than 43,265 children studied in the database of identity theft scans in the United States during 2009 and 2010, 4,311 of the children had had their social security numbers stolen and used by someone else.
“That’s 51 times higher than the rate of identity theft of adults in that same population,” said Dr. Haritos Tsamitis.
The study found that the youngest victim was five months old.
The study also found that 303 victims were under the age of five.
And the study found that largest single amount of fraud involved $725,000 committed using the identity of a 16 year-old girl.
The research found that in other things, such as home mortgages, huge utility bills, even hunting licenses and guns, were purchased using children’s social security numbers, names and identities.
“The study showed that it (identity theft) is occurring at all ages,” said Dr. Haritos Tsamitis. “It’s even occurring in young infants. But I think it’s more widespread in teenagers.”
For example, Zach Friesen had a $40,000 boat bought in his name when he was seven years old.
“Someone got a hold of my identity,” said Friesen, “just my social (security number) and my name and was then able to borrow $40,000.”
Trouble was, like many of these child id theft victims, Zach Friesen and his parents didn’t find out about the identity theft for another ten years.
“When I was 17, I was in for my first job and was applying for schools, for universities,” said Friesen. “(And I) was denied a student loan, denied a job and found out that was for a $40,000 house boat in my name.”
Experts say one reason thieves target children is that this type of ID theft isn’t on most parents radar.
The experts say that most parents simply aren’t as careful with their children’s social security numbers and other information as they are with their own.
“In between the time that they are born and they get that first job or we’re signing them up for a new school, that social security number can be accessed by thieves that can wreak havoc on that child’s future,” said Dr. Haritos Tsamitis.
For parents such as Rolan Walsh, the very idea that his child’s financial and credit future could be stolen is a disturbing thought.
“He’s only two and a half (years old),” said Rolan Walsh when the I-Team asked about the possibility his child’s identity might be stolen.
“Ok. Ok. That’s pretty scary. Pretty scary,” said Walsh.
So to prevent this, experts such as those at Carnegie Mellon University suggest the following:
First, avoid giving out your child’s social security number, unless you have to. That includes avoiding giving out your child’s social security numbers to little league or other sports coaches. Experts say be careful even in official settings such as a doctor’s offices. Zach Friesen’s family believes his identity was stolen at a doctor’s office.
Secondly, experts say, don’t let your child walk around with their social security card. Dr. Haritos Tsamitis says that social security card could easily be lost stolen out of his or her wallet.
Finally, the experts say parents should write or check with credit reporting agencies to see if a report exists on your child.
If such a report does exist then parents will know that you and your child will likely have a problem.
If you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, call police and the Federal Trade Commission which oversees and polices this type of activity.