Protect your children from identity theft

Published: Nov. 4, 2011 at 2:39 PM EDT
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Thousands of children are victimized each year by a new growing form of high tech identity theft.

We aren't talking about family members swiping kid's personal info - although that does happen - we're talking about criminals buying and selling your child's social security number.

The first time Axton Betz applied for an apartment, rental and utility companies checked her credit, and she got some shocking news: this college student, who had never even taken out a loan or credit card, was thousands of dollars in debt. She requested her first credit report and, stunned, found page after page of unpaid accounts.

"I was devastated," she said.

Axton says the thief who stole her social security number started running up bills when she was just a kid. With her credit ruined she had to pay a deposit just to get the lights turned on. The lowest car loan rate she could get was 18 percent and the lowest credit card interest rate she could get was 29 percent.

"It's been life changing and life defining," said Axton.

Axton is far from alone. Recent studies report anywhere from 140,000 to 400,000 children a year are identity theft victims.

"The kids were being targeted at a rate of 51 times the adults," said Bo Holland with All Clear ID.

High tech thieves take children's pristine social security numbers, which have never appeared in the credit reporting system, add a fake name, then open a cell phone or utility account and a new credit history is established and they use it to borrow more money. The theft usually isn't caught until the child becomes a young adult.

"The first day they go into the credit market when they're 18 they could be in for a very ugly surprise," said Tom Oscherwitz with ID Analytics.

The new and exploding part of the problem-these numbers are sold online. There are black  market websites offering stolen social security numbers.

All Clear ID works with police on investigations and has special access to these underground criminal network sites where kid's social security numbers are offered sadly, for about $1.50 to $15.

Experts say thieves get the numbers mostly from viruses programmed to find financial documents on your computer like tax returns, medical records. Some are also from data breaches and theft of school or hospital records.

Experts say limit the places you provide your child's social security number. If an agency requests it, ask why it's needed and what precautions are taken to keep it private. Make sure your computer's virus protection is up to date. And, you can monitor your child's number.

Axton is still cleaning up the mess. Letters from creditors still haunt her. She wishes the crime was caught earlier because not only did the thief steal her social security number, the thief stole her early adult years and turned them into a financial disaster.

"I'm always wondering when is the next collection letter going to arrive when is the next court summons going to arrive?" she said.

For more information on how to get a free credit report for your child-and how old they need to be, visit