Parents often lose sleep agonizing about the possibility of their kids being kidnapped, getting hit by a car, or experimenting with drugs or alcohol. But there's another danger that may not seem as scary but is just as troublesome: identity theft.
Yes, you heard right. More and more, thieves are targeting kids' social security numbers and other private data. Think about it: identity thieves love to use other people's information to apply for credit cards and run up charges. What more attractive target is there than a person with no credit history … like a child?
The worst part about stealing the identities of children is that the crime can go undetected for years. The theft will only come to light when the child becomes old enough to apply for a job, credit cards, or a student loan, and by then, the victim may already be stuck with a demolished credit record.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 8% of all identity theft complaints in 2010 were reported by victims younger than 20 years old. Foster children tend to be at increased risk because of the number of people and agencies that have access to the youngsters' personal information.
Believe it or not, a significant portion of thieves are people who are related to their child victims. In March, an illegal alien in Florida was convicted of using his son's social security number to pose as an American citizen, get a job, obtain a driver's license, and apply for a home loan.
The FTC is starting to respond to this growing trend. In July, the agency will host a free forum on child identity theft, called "Stolen Futures," in Washington, DC.
Even if you can’t attend the event, the FTC has some suggestions for concerned parents who want to protect their children from those who would prey on their identities. They include:
1. Guard your kids' social security numbers. Don't automatically write down your children's personal information on a form for an extracurricular activity or after-school program. Ask why the data is necessary and what is being done to protect it.
2. Check your child's credit. When you request your own credit report, do the same for your children. If the credit bureaus say that they don't have a report on your child, that's good news; it means no one is using his or her identity to establish credit.
3. Watch for warning signs. If your child is receiving phone calls from debt collectors or mail from credit counselors or loan consolidation services, it may be because someone has stolen his or her identity.
4. Teach your child the dangers. Today’s kids are using computers at a very young age, so it's important to educate them about the potential dangers. This includes teaching them what information is private and what to do if a site asks them to type it in.
For kids, growing up can be tough enough. They shouldn't have to deal with a stolen identity and tarnished credit history before they even move out of the house.