The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft as a category of crimes which involve obtaining and using another individual’s personal data through fraud or deception for their own economic gain.
For example, suppose an individual saves their credit card information onto their computer, to their web browser, or in a prefilled website form. If a hacker were to gain access to that information and use it to purchase items, it would be considered an act of identity theft.
Another way in which identity theft may occur is when an individual is not careful with their personal data in public places. For example, if they are in a public place and provide their personal information over the phone, such as a social security number or credit card number, a criminal can easily overhear that information and write it down for later use.
The internet has provided criminals with more opportunities than they ever had prior to the advent of technology. Therefore, it is essential for an individual to use safeguards to protect their personal data both online and offline.
Otherwise, an individual may end up with a criminal history, fraudulent tax records, and even a poor credit score because a criminal decided to steal their identity.
How Are Identities Stolen?
Thieves can steal identities in many ways, including:
- Robbery: Stealing a wallet or purse to obtain:
- drivers licenses;
- credit cards;
- other items;
- Mail theft: Stealing mail, such as:
- bank statements;
- credit card statements; or
- pre-approved new credit card offers to obtain identification information;
- Dumpster diving: Rummaging through an individual’s trash to find documents containing identification information and account numbers;
- Computer fraud: Hacking into computer systems that contain identification information; and
- Phishing: Scamming information from victims by posing as a legitimate business person.
How Do Identity Thieves Operate?
Although identity theft may happen to anyone, identity thieves often target two primary groups of individuals, children and the elderly. Children are common targets for identity theft because they are good candidates for imposter purposes.
For example, the majority of children do not have:
- Credit cards;
- Driver’s licenses;
- Tax record histories; or
- Any other identifying information which leaves a trail.
Because of this, a criminal may be able to use a child’s information to obtain:
- A line of credit;
- A government ID, such as a passport or a license; or
- Take out a mortgage on a home.
An identity thief may obtain a child’s information by:
- Asking for it in person;
- Messaging the child online; or
- Having access to the child’s information.
Identity theft of elderly individuals typically occurs due to their lack of knowledge regarding technology. This may lead to an individual posting information online where it can be viewed publicly, having no security protections on their accounts, or refraining from using technology at all and, instead, sending a check by mail.
Another main way a thief obtains information from an elderly individual is through theft by deception. A thief may pretend to be someone the elderly individual may trust, such as:
- A long lost relative;
- Medical personnel; or
- Appearing in person claiming to be a bank representative or other important representative.
What is Child Identity Theft?
Child identity theft occurs when an adult obtains a child’s private information illegally, which may include:
- Their social security number;
- Birth records; or
- Hospital records.
This stolen information is then used for a financial purpose, such as obtaining a fraudulent loan or building a false credit score. Children have become a common target for identity thieves because they typically have a clean credit record.
In many cases, sadly, the identity thief is usually the child’s own father or mother. Close relatives including, uncles and aunts or older siblings can also be an identity thief.
Child identity theft often begins as an act that is not intentional. In many cases, the parent that is in debt may take out a loan using the child’s social security number.
Because many loan or credit companies do not verify an individual’s age, they will issue a loan to the parent. Then, as time passes, the parent may not be able to pay back the loan or they may simply forget it exists.
This load process can be repeated several times with the child’s information. Down the road, when the child reaches the age of majority, they will discover that their credit history is ruined.
This issue can place a lot of strain on the parent-child relationship in the long run.
What Are the Consequences for Child Identity Theft Charges?
Identity theft, also referred to as identity fraud, is typically a white collar crime which may lead to serious legal consequences. If an individual is found guilty of identity theft, they may face incarceration or hefty monetary fines, or a combination thereof.
If the offense involves a large amount of money or if the individual is a repeat offender, it may lead to federal charges as well as prison time in a federal facility. Child identity theft is a more serious offense because it involves questions regarding improper parenting.
If an individual has charges of identity theft on their criminal record, it may negatively impact their rights related to custody and visitation because it reflects poorly on the parent’s ability to care for the child.
If a divorce arises in the future, the court will use a number of factors to determine custody. This will include an examination of the financial history and criminal history of both parents.
Therefore, if a parent has a child identity theft conviction on their record, it may result in a denial of custody rights.
How Can I Prevent Child Identity Theft?
If you are a parent, there are several steps you can take to prevent child identity theft. A parent should never use their child’s social security number or other information for a questionable purpose.
If a parent suspects that another individual is stealing their child’s information, they should report the activity to law enforcement. Other tips to prevent child identity theft include:
- Checking child’s credit files with each respective credit agency. Children who are less than 18 years of age should not have an existing credit file. If a file exists, it may mean that someone has used the child’s information to establish their own fraudulent credit score;
- Credit reports may be obtained, typically once a year for free, from various credit bureaus. If any credit report looks suspicious, report this to law enforcement;
- Child school records are a common source of information for child identity theft. Check to be sure that the child’s educational information is not being abused. A parent may want to inquire with a local school board regarding how they protect confidential information; and
- Other common targets for child identity theft which should be periodically checked for suspicious activity include:
- Hospital records;
- Medical records; and
- Insurance records.
It is also important to teach a child not to disclose any of their information to strangers or individuals who seem suspicious. Even mundane information such as an address or telephone number may provide an identity thief with clues to complete their identity theft.
An individual may also want to consult with an attorney to learn more about the steps they can take to protect themselves against identity theft.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Child Identity Theft?
If you suspect that your child may have been a victim of identity theft, it is important to consult with an identity theft attorney for assistance. Your attorney can explain the various laws regarding identity theft.
In addition, if you suspect that the theft is perpetrated by a relative or your spouse, you should not hesitate to contact an attorney. It is always a delicate issue to report loved ones but it is important to do so to prevent abuse in the future.