Do you remember when you got your first Social Security card? I do.
I was about 14 years old and wanted to take a part time job at a Dairy Queen which was operated by one of my parent's friends. First, I was told, I had to get a Social Security number.
When I finally received it I tucked that card away like it was gold.
Today, a whole new set of laws is in effect and since the 1980's children in the United States are automatically issued a Social Security number at birth. Better for Big Brother to keep track of all its citizens that way - but it's not necessarily good for individual citizens.
Here's what I mean by that. Once a newborn gets a SSN it virtually lies dormant for up to 18 years - just ripe for a criminal's picking. There are any number of reasons why a child's SSN would be targeted. Maybe someone wants to assume a whole new identity, perhaps to cover up for being in this country illegally. Or someone wants to get a credit card, a driver's license, apply for a job or a new apartment but for some reason they don't want to use their own identity. A child's Social Security number is the perfect target because it's unlikely the identity theft will be discovered until the child reaches the cusp of adulthood, the point at which he or she wants a driver's license, a student loan for college or applies for a job or a line of credit. In other words - the criminal often has a head start of more than a decade. With every passing year they become that much more difficult to find and prosecute.
It's a particularly dastardly crime to commit against a child. It can handicap them in several ways just as they're starting out on their own, destroying their credit rating and branding them as something they are not.
How does a child's Social Security number get stolen? Sometimes it's a family member who's in trouble with the law who "borrows" the number of a child in their clan. It can be a divorcing parent who assumes their child's identity to start a new and unencumbered life. Sometimes it's more sinister and orchestrated than that with organized rings scouring birth and death notices and making application for duplicate certificates to "prove" they are someone they are not. Once they have the SSN they're off to the races establishing a whole new fraudulent identity.
How can you tell if your child's number is in jeopardy? Realize that under federal law a person under 18 cannot be offered credit so if your child starts getting solicitations for credit cards or other bank services become suspicious. If you go to open a savings account or college fund for your child you may be told someone else is already using their SSN. The same might happen when a minor applies for a driver's license and learns their number is already in use. According to the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center they might even find outstanding traffic tickets or a warrant for their arrest! One of the worst case scenarios is if you apply for welfare assistance or Supplemental Security Income and find your child's benefits have already been going to someone else.
Whenever I write about these hidden danger crimes I also like to be able to offer at least a glimmer of hope that our policymakers are aware of the problem and are doing something about it. But the Identity Theft Resource Center has been talking with various government agencies and lawmakers since 2005 about a way to thwart at least some of the criminals stealing our kid's identities and nothing has happened.
The I.T.R.C. has an idea called The Minors 17-10 Database. It would require the Social Security Administration to maintain an updated list of all American children under the age of 17 years and 10 months. That ever evolving list, maintained by the SSA, would be provided on a monthly basis to all approved credit reporting agencies. Then, when a credit issuer calls about the creditworthiness of a certain SS number it would automatically be checked against the The Minors 17-10 list. Since it is illegal for anyone under 18 to get credit these fraudulent requests could be detected and stopped immediately.
I know a wise person who, when confronted with solving big problems says, "let's eat this elephant one bite at a time." Seems that would apply here to the monumental and ever growing problem of identity theft. Let's begin to nibble, shall we?
In the meantime, it probably wouldn't hurt to run a credit check on your child's Social Security number.