At age 7, Zach Friesen's Social Security number was stolen by a stranger who used it to buy a $40,000 houseboat.
Friesen didn't discover someone stole his number until 10 years later when he applied for a job at age 17.
Children make good targets for identity theft because they have clean credit records (unless, I suppose some thief is the second to steal the kid's identity), and since the only reason they have a social security number is so their parents can claim them on their taxes, any theft may go undetected for years.
(This, by the way, is another good reason for ditching the income tax system and replacing it with a consumption tax.)
Adults are urged to check their credit reports annually but should only check for their kids' reports if they suspect their kids' information is being used fraudulently for credit, said Linda Foley, director of the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center.
Red flags include billing collection notices in a child's name or anything that indicates business is being done with a child's information.
Tips for parents
• Do not carry your child's Social Security number in your wallet, and shred all papers you throw out that have your child's number on them.
• Resist giving out your child's Social Security number unless there's a good reason for it. A doctor's office is a great place for a child profiler to collect information.
Red flags that may indicate your child's ID has been stolen
• Bills or credit cards mailed home in the child's name.
• A notice in the child's name about a traffic ticket, for taxes owed or a lien on income.
• A notice from the IRS that the child's name and/or Social Security number is already listed on another tax return.
• A financially troubled person who knows the child's Social Security number has suddenly "found" a lot of money.
If fraud is suspected, request your child's credit report from the three major credit-reporting bureaus. Ordering reports unnecessarily confuses the bureaus' computerized systems, opening a door to thieves because it establishes a credit report.
Some suggest calling for reports or going online, while others recommend requesting them by mail.
To call or go online: TransUnion, (800) 680-7289, www.transunion.com; Experian, (888) 397-3742, www.experian.com; and Equifax, (800) 525-6285, www.equifax.com.
To write: TransUnion, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834; Experian, P.O. Box 1017, Allen, TX 75013; and Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374.
When writing the credit bureaus, send by certified mail with return receipt, and include the following information:
• Your child's full name, Social Security number, date of birth and addresses for the past five years.
• Proof of the parent's address (utility bill, credit-card statement, insurance statement, etc.).
• A copy of your child's birth certificate listing the parent as a parent; if requestors are guardians but not parents, they should state that and include documentation that legally appoints them as guardians.
The creditors should either send a copy of the child's report or a response stating there is no record, which indicates no fraud.
If you don't hear from the companies 30 days after getting your return receipt postcard, a complaint can be filed with the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357.
SOURCES: Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org, Colorado Attorney General, TransUnion, Experian