Warning: Children Can Be Exposed to ID Theft Through Data Breaches

Saving money in a piggybankAdults aren’t the only ones who can have their identity stolen. Tens of millions of American children had their Social Security Numbers, dates of birth and health care ID numbers stolen in the data breach at health insurance giant, Anthem Inc. Criminals can now use those stolen Social Security Numbers to open accounts, get medical treatment, commit tax fraud, and so on.

Because the children’s information was linked to their parents’ data, it can also make it much easier for cybercriminals to commit fraud against their parents as well, said Tim Rohrbaugh, chief experience officer at Identity Guard.

The Social Security Number was never supposed to be used as a national identifier, but it’s become that. For an identity thief, that nine-digit number is the key that unlocks your life. A child’s SSN is even more valuable. Here’s why: for most minors, their number is pristine – it’s never been used and is not yet associated with a credit file. That means there’s very little chance that the credit reporting agencies are monitoring it.

A criminal can take that stolen number, combine it with someone else’s name, address and birth date to create a fake ID that can be used for fraudulent purposes. All too often, this fraud is not detected until the child reaches legal age and applies for a student loan or tries to get a credit card. By that time, their credit history is ruined and it could take years to undo the damage.

Parents need to be on guard.

“Now it’s really all about detection,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). “Parents need to keep an eye out for any red flags that signal their child’s stolen Social Security Number has been used by a thief.”

Those warning signs include:

  • Collection calls or notices for a debt incurred in your child’s name
  • Mailings that would generally be for someone over the age of 18, such as pre-approved credit card offers, jury duty notices, or parking tickets
  • An insurance bill or explanation of benefits from a doctor listing medical treatments or services that did not take place
  • A notice from the IRS that your child’s name and/or Social Security Number is already listed on another tax return

Fraud experts encourage all parents to check to see if their underage children have credit reports. All three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, allow parents to do this at no cost.

“If they have [a credit report], it could be an indicator of fraud. If not, you probably don’t have anything to worry about,” said Experian spokesman Rod Griffin. “If your child has a credit history and you don’t know why, you should be very concerned.”

In that case, you should put a “freeze” on any fraudulent credit files – it’s free, so that those files cannot be used to commit more financial fraud using your child’s stolen identity. Then you’ll need to work with the credit bureaus to remove the false information from that account. The Identity Theft Resource Center can help guide you through the process. Be advised that once your child becomes an adult, you’ll need to contact the bureaus to get the freeze lifted or they won’t be able to get any credit cards or loans.

Parents should do this fraud check once a year until their children become adults and can then check their own credit history. Finally, don’t think you’re safe because you don’t have Anthem. Remember, there are many other ways a crook can snag your child’s Social Security Number.

Article Source: Herb Weisbaum for NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/millions-children-exposed-id-theft-through-anthem-breach-n308116