KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Identity theft is not just affecting adults anymore. It’s also taking aim at kids and one of the biggest issues is that it can go undetected for years.
Playing toy trains at their home after school, 5-year-old Jackson and 23-month-old Karson haven’t a care in the world. Unfortunately, thousands of young kids across the country are becoming victims of child identity theft and their parents have no idea.
“I would hate for one of the kids to get their first credit card, their first bank account and we find out they have credit cards in their names and have high balances that have been there for years,” said Knoxville parent Kristy Altman.
A survey by the Identity Theft Assistance Center discovered one in 40 households with kids experienced child identity fraud. That is when someone steals a child’s Social Security number or date of birth to open credit card accounts, loans, utilities and more.
“It is scary and sad, but you kind of expect. I mean, people have been doing things illegally for years,” said Altman.
Knoxville Police Department Investigator Richard Giammarino said child identity theft is a trend he’s seen skyrocket in less than a decade. He blames the Internet.
“Typically it’s done alone or where the merchant does not require the person to apply in-person. That’s the problem. There’s little to no oversight. It’s the wild, wild west,” said Giammarino.
Cyber thieves hide behind a screen and steal from kids without their knowledge or consent. It happens when personal information gets into the wrong hands.
“It’s very convenient to steal money or open up accounts in someone else’s name, using somebody else’s information than to use a knife or a gun to rob someone,” Giammarino said.
Last year, a Knoxville family reported a case after a parent, who lost child custody, opened a cable account in her kid’s name.
“It could be a financial nightmare, not only for the custodial parent, but for the child’s financial future. It could be ruined,” said Giammarino.
Investigators say it’s important to only share personal information with trusted parties, like your kids’ school and the doctor’s office. Also, make sure you’re shredding all important documents before you throw them away.
It’s also smart to lock up Social Security cards and birth certificates. Giammarino also recommends getting a free annual credit report for your kids, which can be requested online. It’s a tip, the Altmans, say they plan to do.
More online: Request a free credit report
“They’re just playing trains in the other room. They shouldn’t have to deal with Social Security offices and the Knoxville Police Department and credit card companies or anyone else. We’re going to try our best and keep the information private for as long as we can,” said Altman.
If you notice any signs of identity theft, police recommend filing a crime report and then getting in touch with the merchant, which can be held civilly liable.
People who commit this crime can face a wide range of charges, including identity theft, exploitation of a child and fraudulent use of a computer, among many more.