In 2013, a man stole the name and Social Security Number of a child who died soon after his birth in 1974. “His new, clean record helped [Shawn] Gover got a job in 2016 as head of finances for a golf club in Powhatan, Va. Then he stole $33,557. The fake identity also helped him buy a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol despite his felony conviction,” the Washington Post reports. Recently, Gover, 47, was caught and recently sentenced to four years in prison on firearms and identity theft charges. Unfortunately, the theft of a child’s identity, and its use to facilitate fraud or other crimes, is not uncommon. And it can be easy to find and buy the SSNs. Researchers at Terbium Labs recently discovered a cache of children’s SSNs for sale online.
From the moment an infant receives her Social Security Number in the weeks after her birth, she is vulnerable to identity theft. Such thefts can be undetected for years, until a young adult attempts to apply for student or car loans or a credit card and learns someone has been using his name and SSN for years. (Identity theft is common for all ages, according to federal statistics. The latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, “An estimated 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014.”)
In a 2011 child identity theft report, Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab found: “4,311 or 10.2% of the children in the report had someone else using their Social Security number – 51 times higher than the 0.2% rate for adults in the same population.” And: “The youngest victim was five months old; 303 victims were under the age of five.” The report “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.” And credit-reporting agency Experian has said it “handles 25,000-30,000 fraud cases each year and approximately 17% were targeted at children. According to Michael Bruemmer, Vice President of Consumer Protection for Experian, child identity fraud or theft will affect 25% of kids before turning 18.”
In congressional testimony, the Federal Trade Commission has noted unique aspects of child identity theft. “A child’s unused SSN is uniquely valuable to a thief because it typically lacks a previous credit history and can be paired with any name and birth date. In effect, a child’s identity is a blank slate that can be used to obtain goods and services over a long time period because parents typically do not monitor their children’s credit, often having no reason to suspect any problem.” Also, “fraud alerts, a key tool used by adult victims of identity theft to warn potential creditors of possible identity theft, are premised on the existence of a credit file. Parents ordinarily cannot place a fraud alert on their child’s credit file if the child has no such file.”
Another difficulty is that not all states allow parents or guardians to address potential child identity theft or fraud through the use of a credit security freeze, which restricts a consumer reporting agency from releasing a credit report or data from the report without authorization from the consumer. Only 29 states “allow parents, legal guardians or other representatives of minors to place a security freeze on the minor’s credit report,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The states are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Colorado is debating HB18-1129, which seeks to address the issue.