ID Thieves Also Target Kids

Children's stolen Social Security numbers used for credit, loans and jobs

By Kimberly King
|  Thursday, Sep 15, 2011  |  Updated 5:15 PM CDT
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Identity thieves open credit lines, get bank loans and even land jobs with Social Security numbers belonging to children.

Kimberly King, NBCDFW.com

Identity thieves open credit lines, get bank loans and even land jobs with Social Security numbers belonging to children.

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Think only adults become victims of identity theft?

Thieves also target children -- even newborns -- opening credit lines, getting bank loans and even landing jobs with their Social Security numbers.

Texas legislators and the U.S. Department of Justice are holding forums to educate parents and government officials on the issue.

Investigators with the Social Security Administration say identity theft is prevalent in Texas at least in part because the state has millions of illegal immigrants. Some look to obtain Social Security numbers belonging to children because they are a clean slate without a bad credit history.

Experts say thieves use children's Social Security numbers because they can often use them undetected for years. By the time a child is 18 years old, multiple people could have used the number, ruining the child's ability to get college loans or turn on utilities in an apartment.

Identity thieves can obtain Social Security numbers in various ways, including from websites or stealing cards out of mailboxes.

Joanna Ganiear, of Southlake, said the FBI told her her son's Social Security card and birth certificate were stolen from her mail.

A woman with 27 convictions had Ganiear's mail in her possession when she was arrested in Dallas the next day. The woman is serving time in prison.

A Dallas mother said her 8-year-old daughter's identity was stolen when she was just 1 year old.

"We were living in California. We were applying for medical benefits for our children," the mother said. "Waiting for the results, the caseworker called and said, 'Do you realize that your daughter is making an income?' And I said, 'That's impossible because my daughter is one.'"

Jamie May, a chief investigator with identity security firm All-Clear ID, said auto loans and numerous credit cards were taken out with the 8-year-old's Social Security number. Many of the accounts had gone into collections, May said.

"Our scan uncovered three suspects using [her] Social Security number, and they've been using her social with a different name for many years," May said.

She said All-Clear ID's largest case involving a child had $750,000 in debt associated with the child's Social Security number.

Steve Bryson said a simple background check when his stepdaughter applied for a lifeguard job uncovered the theft of her Social Security number.

"About a week later, we got a report back showing there were about six to seven different people using that Social Security card," he said.

Parents can get checks on the Social Security numbers of their children through the three major credit agencies.

But May said those searches can give parents a false sense of security because they scan a child's name with his or her Social Security number. In most cases, thieves use a different name with the child's Social Security number, May said.

Experts say parents should keep Social Security cards locked up and hesitate to give out the information when asked.

The Federal Trade Commission advises parents to question schools if they ask for Social Security numbers. Parents should ask if a different way to identify their child can be used.

Several for-profit companies, including All-Clear ID, offer services to help parents protect their identities.

All-Clear ID offers a free one-time check for children. May said the scan uses only the child's Social Security number.

However, no product can provide foolproof protection.

More:

FTC: Protecting Your Child's Personal Information at School
FTC: How to Limit the Risks of ID Theft in School-Age Children
FTC Testifies on Children's Identity Theft

 

NBCDFW's Shane Allen contributed to this report.

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