In the Wrong Hands: Child Identity Theft
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It’s a crime that happens in the Twin Cities: children’s financial identities are being stolen and parents often don’t know it’s even happened until much later, according to law enforcement.
Carnegie Mellon University study found that more than 10 percent of the minors in the sample population had someone else using their Social Security number. That rate is 51 times higher than the rate for adults the 2011 report.
"Nobody’s identity is safe including minors," Eagan Police Det. Desiree Schroepfer said. "A lot of times, these parents don’t find out until months or in cases years, that makes it very difficult for law enforcement to follow up on that."
Eagan police followed the case when a father learned, only after the military ran a credit check on his newly enlisted son, that someone else had opened a $9,000 car loan in his son’s name back when he was 12 years old.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS discovered there is no one agency or state department that tracks the full scope of child identity theft in Minnesota.
Maplewood Family Discovers: Child’s Identity Stolen
"Who could have done this, it was sheer disbelief and then anger, who would do that?" Sarah asked after learning her 9-year-old child’s social security number was being used by a man in Minneapolis.
A state worker called the family to tell them back around the holidays there was a glitch with their medical assistance application.
The worker told the family based on their record search, their daughter earned too much money for them to qualify. The daughter is 9 years old and doesn’t work.
“I thought it was a mistake, it was a total shock,” Sarah said. “You’re thinking about their medical, their safety, safety in their schools, the things they eat not a magic number that will only affect them when they are 18."
The worker told the family that the 9-year-old daughter was the victim of identity theft, since someone was using her daughter’s social, leaving Sarah only to wonder where someone got her daughter’s social security number.
Experts Say Check Early
"The long term effects are damaging and should be a wake-up call for parents," said Eva Velasquez of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego.
The nonprofit helps victims of all forms of identity theft with resources and provides critical advice.
"The repercussions from identity theft for children can really have long term impact,” Velasquez said. “It’s never too early to start checking."
If you wait to check and discover a problem especially before a child applies for financial aid for college it could delay them starting college.
"They find they can’t qualify for those student loans because they have bad credit and they have an identity theft issue they need to clean up," Velasquez said.
Red Flags For Parents
The ITRC created a tip sheet with red flags for parents to look for as sign’s their child’s identity may have been compromised.
Experian explains how parents can learn if a credit report is open in their child’s name.
TransUnion also allows parents to inquire with them about the existence of a credit report for their child.
Equifax does not have information readily available via its website.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests parents checking a child’s credit report by the age of 16 for fraud or misuse.
Protecting a Child Before He or She Becomes a Victim
We discovered the laws to protect kids from identity theft in most of the country are much stronger the ones on the books here in Minnesota.
According to the National Conference of State Legislature, twenty-seven states including the state of Wisconsin allow parents, legal guardians or other representatives of minors to place a security freeze on the minor’s credit report at anytime, but Minnesota is not on the list.
Minnesota’s Attorney General Office says parents can freeze a child’s credit only if there is a credit report already open on a child.
Minnesota does allow all victims of identity theft to apply for a credit freeze, according to Attorney General website.
Eagan police, who assisted 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on this story, say no child under 13 should have a credit report open, if there is one it probably means it’s being used against the parent’s knowledge.
However, it’s different over in Wisconsin, where parents and legal guardians can freeze a child’s credit report so people seeking to open a new credit account in the child’s name cannot access the child’s information, therefore, protecting a child’s identity from falling into the wrong hands.
“The credit bureaus charge a fee for this service, but the small charge is worth it in light of the huge problem that results when a child’s credit information is stolen,” said Rep. Paul Tittl, (R-Manitowoc) coauthor of bill.
3 Credit Bureaus Explain Freeze Steps
Equifax allows parents to freeze credit reports of minors regardless of the state they live in.
"The level of consumer protection that you have and the tools available really shouldn’t be based on the state you live in," consumer advocate Velasquez said.
Advice All Parents Need to Hear
The Federal Trade Commission does not break down identity theft based upon age, but shares advice for all parents to protect their children to limit the changes of identity theft.