Q: I know of an adolescent whose personal identity was stolen and used fraudulently. How can this happen?
A: You are correct, hundreds of online businesses are finding inactive Social Security numbers online, most of which are assigned to children under the age of 18 who have not started using them yet.
They then sell them under different names to help people establish fake credit. The scheme may lead to significant debts for children that might be impossible to pay off. Better Business Bureau is warning parents to be on the lookout for the signs that point to their child's identity being compromised or stolen.
For adults, last year alone, 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft, resulting in the loss of $37 billion, according to a 2011 report from Javelin Strategy and Research.
While this number is exuberantly high, NBC reports that it becomes harder to define how many children are actually affected by identity
theft because of the fact that most cases go undiscovered for years. However, an identity theft monitoring company, Debix, found an alarming 4,000 cases of tainted identities from a small sample of 40,000 children.
It is extremely important that parents take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their child's important and helpless identity.
BBB urges parents to follow these important steps:
• Be aware of how to obtain your child's credit report. Getting access to your child's records is actually a different process than obtaining your own. Your child's report cannot be obtained using the congressionally mandated free credit report website (http://Annu alCreditReport.com) when under 13 and even sometimes for children 14 to 18. For parents with children under 13, the easiest way to obtain your child's records is through TransUnion.
According to NBC, if TransUnion says there is no report, odds are good that your child is in the clear. But if there is a report, or you have a reason to believe your child is a victim, you will want to follow up with the nation's other two major credit bureaus, Experian and Equifax.
• Recognize signs of trouble. Watch out for red flags that indicate there might be a problem, such as your son or daughter's receiving preapproved credit card offers or calls from collection agencies.
• Know what to do if you suspect that your child has fallen victim. According to the FTC, every parent should check a child's credit report on his 16th birthday. It is not good to check too often, but checking leaves sufficient time to fix errors and activity before the child goes off to college and tries to obtain financial aid.
If suspicious activity arises, parents must contact all three credit bureaus and consider a credit freeze.
For details on securing your identity, visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-news/.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.