We’ve heard the nightmares of adults having their identity stolen — someone else using their Social Security numbers (SSN), ruining credit and lives. Now imagine the horror of discovering that someone has been using your child’s SSN.
Wait, how can that be? Children aren’t allowed to apply for credit, so how can a thief have access to that personal information?
It’s all in the way the SSN system is set up, according to Jay Foley, executive director at the Identity Theft Resource Center. The numbers are recorded by date of issue, not date of birth. That means it is impossible to tell if an issued number belongs to an infant or an adult immigrant.
“When a creditor gets a request in with a valid SSN, one that they can confirm has been issued, they don’t get information telling them to whom the number was issued," Foley said. "That’s not information Social Security gives out. Nor is it information that the three credit reporting agencies have access to."
From that point, it is easy for the thief to put down his name, a date of birth, and a reasonable excuse for why he his Social Security number had been issued recently.
If the number isn’t in credit systems, how are thieves stealing it? SSN assignments are broken down in this way: the first three numbers indicate where the number was issued; the middle two numbers are batch numbers that are generated during a particular window of time; and the final four numbers are random pin numbers. Based on the information already out there on the first five numbers, it isn’t very difficult for thieves to use a computer program to come up with random numbers to try until they get a match.
It wasn’t until recently that companies had to verify that SSNs are legitimate, which meant that your child might have been issued a number that someone else was already using falsely.
The non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center has proposed a solution to the growing problem of illegal use of children’s SSNs: the creation of a Minors 17-10 Database, which would include not only the Social Security numbers, but also first and last names and birth month and year to credit organizations, departments of motor vehicles, and other institutions that require a Social Security number for background checks.
The information would be kept on until the child is 17 years, 10 months old. This age was chosen, Foley said, because this is the time when teenagers are putting in paperwork for student loans and other credit forms.
While there is little that parents can currently do to protect their child’s identity, they can be proactive by learning the signs that their child is the victim of identity theft. The Identity Theft Resource Center lists some of the signs that your child’s SSN may be in use. They include:
•Calls from collection agencies
•Someone who has access to the child’s SSN has sudden prosperity
•Warrants for traffic violations for a child without a driver’s license
•Denial of government assistance because the child is already receiving benefits
•A job verification call when the child has never worked
If you think your child’s identity has been stolen, the Identity Theft Resource Center also provides contact information for the three credit reporting agencies and what you should provide to track your child’s credit rating.