Late last year, knowing of CyLab’s vital work in privacy and cyber security research, an identity protection company (AllClear ID, a.k.a. Debix) approached me about some data with disturbing implications. The story that jump out from the numbers is a compelling one. It suggest that not only are child identities exploited for various types of fraud, indeed child identities may be the hottest ticket in the underground market for stolen IDs.
In going through the data, two over-arching themes emerged:
1. The issues surrounding child identity theft (e.g., how prevalent is it in the general population, and is the threat a growing one) should be the subject of serious academic research; and that time and resources should be dedicated to a scientific analysis of this and similar data, to determine what it really means, and if the trends that seem to present themselves hold up under rigorous investigation.
2. Regardless of what the results of such serious scientific research prove, an existential threat exist. One that is tangible, and immediate for children and their parents. Child IDs are being stolen, and exploited to commit fraud, etc. If it happens to your child, it won’t matter to you what the national average is, or if the problem is trending up or down.
From the report, key points:
- First large child ID theft report ever published, based on identity protection scans of over 40,000 U.S. children.
- Unused Social Security numbers are uniquely valuable as thieves can pair them with any name and birth date. This is particularly useful for illegal immigration.
- A child’s identity is a blank slate, and the probability of discovery is low, as the child will not be using it for a long period of time. Parents typically don’t monitor their children’s identities.
- The potential impact on the child’s future is profound; it could destroy or damage a child’s ability to win approval on student loans, acquire a mobile phone, obtain a job or secure a place to live.
- The primary drivers for such attacks are illegal immigration (e.g., to obtain false IDs for employment), organized crime (e.g., to engage in financial fraud) and friends and family (e.g., to circumvent bad credit ratings, etc.).
More from the report:
This child identity theft report is not based on survey results. It is based on identity protection scans on 42,232 children (age 18 and under) in the U.S during 2009-2010. This pool of 42,232 child identities includes everyone under 18 in a database of over 800,000 identity records. […]
This is a non-scientific report. The data does not project or imply any estimate of total number of child identity theft incidents, or what percent of children’s identities are stolen, or what percent of total number of identity theft incidents involve children.
What this data does is provide some disturbing evidence that identity thieves are targeting children due to the unique value of unused Social Security numbers. It highlights some serious risks and threats, and raises some serious questions that should be the subject of a scientific study, e.g., to determine the scope of the problem, and how it is trending.
Read the full report for stories about people who have been victimized and more on child identity theft.