According to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 10 million Americans are victimized by identity theft each year. But now that most infants have social security numbers, thieves have discovered they may be the easiest targets of all.
Of those cases, 31 percent of thieves use credit cards to swindle the victims. Bank fraud and phone or utilities fraud round out the top three.
Perhaps the cruelest form of identity theft might be robbing a child of their good name, their good credit while they don't even know it.
“By the time I was 10-years-old I was not only a convicted felon but I had outstanding debt somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000,” said Randy Waldron, a victim of child identity theft for most of his 24 years.
He only discovered the series of crimes when he tried to get his first credit card. His application was denied.
That was just the beginning of his troubles. Waldron said, “The total debt in my name between outstanding credit card bills bounced checks back taxes and civil judgments totaled $2 million dollars.”
Waldron is one of thousands of victims of a crime committed by strangers or relatives who have access to a child's social security number.
Often, as in this case, the perpetrator is a parent.
“When my father began using my social security number, he never ever stopped,” said Waldron.
According to the FTC, about 4 percent of all identity thefts reported involve children.
But Linda Foley of the Identity Theft Resource Center believes the problem is much bigger.
“I think that's only the tip of the iceberg based on the call volume we are getting here. I would say children of identity theft is closer to about 25 percent of the calls we are receiving,” says Foley
Cheryl Leddy knew something was wrong when she received a registered letter six years ago, addressed to her nine-year-old son, Bryce. She said the collection agency notice listed her son owing well over $2,000.
“My dad used my identity but I can't remember the rest,” said little Bryce Dalton. “My dad's paying it back.”
Children are easy targets. They typically don't use their social security numbers until their late teens, when applying for a first job, a student loan or a credit card. Thieves have years to rack up considerable damage.
When families finally find out, the burden of proof falls on them.
According to Foley, “They have to fight to prove that their children who can barely hold crayons are not the ones who opened credit card accounts or gotten cars or loans or have not driven a car and gotten a DUI ticket."
Like Waldron, credit questions may haunt the kids for years, and the harsh reality of a stolen future.
“Unfortunately a lot of people don't know about it they don't think it can happen to them. I'm here to tell you that it can and it can be absolutely devastating.”
Approximately two-thirds of child identity theft cases involve relatives. Victims need to file a report with local law enforcement officials. Victims also can file a dispute through the Fair Credit Reporting Act to credit bureaus.