We always try our best to protect ourselves against scams and identity theft. Why? Identity theft is a real and serious threat. Millions of Americans have their identity stolen every year, and it's actually the fastest-growing crime in the U.S.
Practicing good security for ourselves is definitely a must but have you ever thought about how vulnerable your children's identities are, too?
It turns out, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting children's personal information and our kids are actually at greater risk of having their identities stolen!
In fact, studies show that 10.2 percent of children under age 18 already have had their Social Security numbers stolen.
Read on while we explore this alarming form of cybercrime and how you can protect your children from grief many years down the road.
Babies are at risk of identity theft
A disturbing trend is emerging from the sinister corners of the internet. The personal information of young children and babies, including their Social Security numbers and birth dates, are now available on the Dark Web.
The stolen data are, more than likely, pilfered from health facilities and pediatrician databases around the country and sold as part of entire packages (known as fullz).
"From what our researchers have seen, there is an elaborate marketplace on the Dark Web where the stolen data [are] distributed through channels to end users,” Leon Lerman, the CEO of health care security company Cynerio, told Fox News. “The hackers, who [are] at the top of the black market value chain, sell raw patient data in bulk."
The sale of "fullz" packages is such a lucrative Dark Web business that stolen data traders are now adopting legitimate marketing practices and are peddling their wares as full-on "services."
For instance, as a buyer bonus, some packages even contain "how-to" guides for stolen identity scams, including steps on how to apply for a fraudulent credit card without detection.
The Dark Web is a hidden network of about 50,000 sites where criminals, hackers, trolls, extremists and governments exist. Listen to this free Komando On Demand podcast and learn how it works and what steps people take to access it.
So why are babies and children the perfect targets for identity thieves?
When newborns and young children are assigned their own Social Security numbers, hackers are using their clean purchase histories as main selling points to credit card fraudsters.
Criminals can then use their Social Security numbers to get loans for cars and homes. Some kids even have home foreclosures on their credit reports.
Since they're dealing with kids' identities, this fraudulent activity may go unnoticed for years on end!
Most of the time, parents don't regularly check their kids' identities for fraudulent activity. This means that this data can be safely traded on the Dark Web for several years without raising any alarms.
The moment of truth
The terrible moment of truth arrives when a child is of age enough to apply for a credit card and discovers that he or she has indeed been hacked.
The evidence of identity theft will finally reveal its ugly head - a bafflingly bad credit score on the onset, mystery credit cards, and unexplained purchases on record.
Worse yet, it can be difficult or even downright impossible to fix these credit card history issues or strike off these fraudulent purchases off the child's record.
It may take years (if ever) before a child's identity can be cleared and in the worst cases, they may have to secure new Social Security numbers.
Real data + Fake Data = Synthetic identity
Another problem that complicates matters for young children is the flexibility of their data. This hacked information can be combined with other fake data for the creation of bogus accounts (also known as synthetic identities).
For example, a hacker can take a child's stolen birthdate and Social Security number then build a credit record by using a fake address and even a fake name. Even denied applications with these false identities can taint an individual's credit history!
How to protect your child from identity fraud
As with everything else, our first line of defense is awareness.
If we as parents are aware that these child identity scams are spreading, then we should think twice before readily handing out our children's personal information.
Although it's still a parent's fiscal duty to register a child's Social Security number, it is better to refrain from giving it away unless it's absolutely required.
Always inquire why a doctor, pediatrician or school needs your child's Social Security number and if you have any doubts, treat it as your own and don't give it away.
Next, check your child's identity on a regular basis, too. Inspect if there are existing credit reports under their Social Security numbers. This can tip you off if they are already a victim of identity fraud.
Finally, if you want to protect your child's identity for now, consider putting a credit freeze on their accounts. This will prevent criminals from using your kids' Social Security numbers.
To freeze credit, contact one of the three credit bureaus. Experian and Equifax allow credit freezes for children across the U.S. TransUnion, on the other hand, only allows credit freezes for minors in states that allow it.
If you can freeze your child's credit, then do it.