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Child Identity Theft Is On The Rise. Is Your Family Safe?

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Michael Bruemmer, Child Identity Theft

With Michael Bruemmer, Vice-President of Experian Data Breach Resolution Group and Consumer Protection

We’ve all heard horror stories of people who have fallen victim to identity theft.  But now there’s a new, insidious angle that has to do with child identity theft.

To learn more, Steve speaks with Michael Bruemmer.  Michael is the Vice President of Consumer Protection at Experian Consumer Services.

Understanding Identity Theft

Identity theft comes in all shapes and sizes. In its simplest form, someone steals your credit card for financial gain.  On the deep end, thieves steal your insurance information, medical records, driver’s license, Social Security Number, and more.

The Insidious Reality Of Child Identity Theft

In an insidious turn, identity thieves have now started targeting children.

In 2017, there were 1 million known cases of identity theft involving children under the age of 18.  Most thefts started when victims were about 12 years old and weren’t discovered until they were 16 or 18 years old.  This gave criminals four to six years before being discovered.

Don’t Be Careless With Your Child’s SSN

Michael notes that parents should be extra careful with their children’s Social Security Numbers (SSN).  Hold off on filling it into forms without double-checking first.

Signs Of Identity Theft

The most obvious sign of child identity theft is getting a letter or phone call from a creditor, store, or financial institution.  If you are contacted about your child’s identity or finances, the identity has likely already been compromised.

Common Red Flags

Seemingly harmless items, such as a pre-approved credit card, are high on the red flag list for child identity theft.  Watch out for store accounts such as a Target card in your child’s name.  These are early warning signs of identity theft. Take them seriously.

More Lucrative Than Adult ID Theft

Child identity theft is more lucrative because it goes undetected for years.  Experian’s survey shows that one-in-four victims were dealing with repercussions ten years after the theft had occurred.

Child Identity Theft Awareness Day

To raise awareness on this issue, Experian sponsored the first National Child Identity Theft Awareness Day.  The goal was to remind parents and guardians to be extra vigilant with their child’s identity markers.

Free Child Scan

The event also allowed parents to check their child’s SSN against Experian’s credit database, to see if it had been compromised.

The scan is free and is on Experian’s website at www.experian.com/childscan.

Beware Of Phishing Scams

Steve raised the concern that the free child scan could be used as a phishing scam.  Like the IRS, Experian does not market anything over the phone or send out links via email.

3 Steps To Protect Your Child’s Identity

Michael recommends three steps to protect your child’s identity:

#1 Never give your child their Social Security Number or SSN card, especially if they are under the age of 16.  There’s simply no need for them to have it.

If you do give it, make sure you know where it’s being used.  Be aware that pediatricians and social media apps do not require SSNs.

#2 Make sure your child doesn’t post personal information on social media sites.  Thieves troll these sites for birthdays, addresses, and other vital personal data.

Michael notes how one teen posted his freshly acquired driver’s license on Instagram and exposed his information to the world.

#3 Beware of requests for your child’s Social Security Number or other personal information.

Make your family aware of rising child identity theft and its painful repercussions.  Teach them how to stay safe online and in the real world as soon as they’re old enough for computers and smartphones.  And check out Experian’s free child scan to make sure your child’s identity hasn’t been compromised.


Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

Read The Entire Transcript Here

Steve Pomeranz: We’ve all heard the horror stories of people that have been victim to identity theft, but now there’s a new angle. Child identity theft, and it’s particularly insidious for the reasons I’ll discuss with my next guest, Michael Bruemmer. Michael is Vice-President of Experian Data Breach Resolution Group and Consumer Protection.

Hey, Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Bruemmer: Hi, Steve, thanks for having me.

Steve Pomeranz: First, very quickly define identity theft for us.

Michael Bruemmer: Identity theft comes in all shapes and sizes. In its simplest form, it could be someone stealing your credit card for financial gain. On the other end, it could be the loss of your medical insurance information, medical records, driver’s license, Social Security number, or all of the above.

Steve Pomeranz: Obviously, the results at every level can be quite disturbing. I mean, if someone takes your credit card, you’re kind of protected. But if someone has your Social Security number and other vital data like that, it could actually hurt you. But there’s a new angle, as I said
because now you just conducted a survey, focusing on identity theft for children. Tell us about that.

Michael Bruemmer: Well, at Experian, we’re always looking to listen and innovate on new trends and especially when it comes to identity theft. We spotted the worrying trend that there are more and more children that are victims every year, and I’ll put that into perspective.

Last year alone, there were about 17.6 million adults that were victims of identity theft and one in seven children or 1 million victims last year were people under the age of 18. And it’s particularly important to note the fact that most of these victims, according to the survey that we did—and we surveyed 500 actual victims—said that the theft started around age 12 and less than half of them did not discover it until they were 16 or 18 years old.

Steve Pomeranz: I think that’s why it’s insidious because the child’s not using that information when they’re age 12, or 13, and 14. They only discover it many years later, so their name could have been used for criminal purposes for ten years.

Michael Bruemmer: Exactly, and there’s no reason for a child under the age of 16 to have their Social Security number given to them, a Social Security card, or even to give it to somebody else. And that’s why parents as one of the preventions need to take that precaution as a first step.

Steve Pomeranz: So what are some of the signs that identity theft may have taken place?

Michael Bruemmer: Well, the most obvious sign is that you’re going to get something in the mail or a phone call from a creditor, from a store, from a financial institution, that says they want to take action in that child’s name.

It could be as simple as a free line of credit. It could be for a government ID. It could be for a national change of address form. Something like that that’s unusual that someone under the age of 18 wouldn’t be getting otherwise. That’s usually a first sign, and unfortunately, if you’re waiting until that happens, and you don’t detect it on your own, then the identity could already be compromised in many places.

Steve Pomeranz: Would a pre-approved credit card be one of those items?

Michael Bruemmer: That’s a real common one that we see. The other thing that we’ll see is applications for store accounts, a Best Buy card, a Target card, those types of things. So any of those are usually an early warning sign.

Steve Pomeranz: I would think that child identity theft would be more lucrative in many ways than adult because of this long-time frame that they get to use their information. Is that a fact?

Michael Bruemmer: That is very true. Our survey pointed out, Steve, that one in four of the respondents are still dealing with child identity theft even ten years after they discover it.

And with 82% of the respondents saying that their Social Security number was the primary thing that they took, there are also other things that go along with that. And it could be the new driver’s license. It could be a medical insurance card for their parents and those things.

And unless you actually start to see it early on, it can go undetected until you are traditionally applying for that first loan or a credit card when you might be 16 or 18.

Steve Pomeranz: Now, last week, I think Experian held their first Child Identity Theft Awareness Day and set up a way to scan for this. Tell us about that.

Michael Bruemmer: Yes, we were very excited on September 1st, that we sponsored the first national Child Identity Theft Awareness Day. Not only to draw attention to the issue but also to remind parents they have to be the ones, whether they be a parent or guardian that are protecting the child’s identity.

And along with the sponsoring of the awareness day, we also announced our free child scan. And what it is, it allows a parent or guardian to put in the child’s Social Security number and then see if there is an existing Experian credit file that’s been created. The scan is at www.experian.com/childscan.

And it’s very simple, takes less than five minutes for the parent or guardian to do it, and immediately see if there’s a credit file already existing which in itself is a problem.

Steve Pomeranz: I see, well, the first thing that came to my mind was a phishing possibility here.

If a person received an email offering this, are you guys sending out any emails? Or are you just trying to market this through the media and then have people come to the site?

Michael Bruemmer: Well, we’re just like the IRS. We don’t go ahead and market anything over the phone or send out any links.

And if you’re getting that, it is really a security problem. So we have national media on it, and we’re allowing people to come to our website and go ahead and sign up on their own. But there is no outbound campaign because, in fact, that would be a good thing for a phishing scam.

Steve Pomeranz: Exactly, so go to experian.com/childscan and you can get that done. My guest is Michael Breummer, he’s Vice-President of the Experian Data Breach Resolution Group and Consumer Protection. Let’s talk about some steps you can take to avoid getting into trouble here. Tell us what a parent and a child should be thinking of doing and also how we should be educating our children.

Michael Bruemmer: Well, there are three big things, Steve. First never give your child, especially under the age of 16, there’s no need for them to know their Social Security number, let alone have a card. Second, if they do entrust the child to use that Social Security number, they need to know where it’s being used because you don’t need to give it away for a doctor’s visit. The schools don’t need to have it. And it sure doesn’t need to be posted on social media. So keep that away from the child. Second thing is make sure that that child isn’t out there using any personal identity information, let alone Social Security, on social media.

I used the example of the kid who just got his driver’s license who lethally posted it on his Instagram account. Of course, he’s just compromised his own driver’s license number. And then last but not least, we touched on this a little earlier, if there’s any request for any information your child receives or the parent receives to provide a Social Security number or provide any personal information, in most cases, people are not going to be outbounding to you to try to get that information.

So just don’t give it up.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.

Michael Bruemmer: And so those tips are great to be able to tell the child just like, hey, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t open any email links. Don’t click on anything. If you get a strange phone call on your phone from somebody that’s asking for information, just hang up.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. My guest, Michael Bruemmer with Experian, their Data Breach Resolution Group and Consumer Protection Division. And if you have a question about what we just discussed, ask us. Go to StevePomeranz.com and ask us anything that you’d like. And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly update, and we’ll send you the weekly commentaries and interviews straight into your inbox.

That’s StevePomeranz.com. Michael, thanks so much for joining me.

Michael Bruemmer: Thanks for having me, Steve.