With identity theft rising, the federal government is
considering making it easier for young victims to receive new
Social Security numbers.
Such a move could help tens of thousands of children whose
numbers have been stolen by thieves to obtain credit cards, legally
hold a job and collect fraudulent tax refunds -- sometimes for
years without detection.
Children represent particularly alluring prey for fraudsters,
because typically nobody checks credit reports associated with
their Social Security numbers until the child is a teenager. A
by Carnegie Mellon University CyLab estimated that 10 percent of
children have had their Social Security numbers used by someone
else -- a rate 51 times higher than that of adults.
"Children are a much more lucrative target," says Robert
Chappell, a Virginia State Police lieutenant and author of the
book, "Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know." "You
could victimize them at birth and misuse their credit for 18 years
before they find out about it."
Rule change considered
Adults and children seeking new Social Security numbers today must
show they were "recently disadvantaged" by an unauthorized person
using their identity. The Social Security Administration signaled
early in 2013 it was considering lowering that bar and might change
its policy to allow new numbers for children 13 and under in
certain circumstances. The comment period ended in April. The
Social Security Administration says it has no timetable for a
, the agency would issue a new number when parents could show that
the old one was stolen from the mail, publicly disclosed in error
by the Social Security Administration or misused by a third party
-- but they wouldn't have to show they suffered harm.
So, for instance, if somebody fraudulently provided a child's
Social Security number for employment, the child could receive a
new Social Security number before any fraudulent activity showed up
on a credit report.
letter to the Social Security Administration
, a mother from California said the proposal would help her
5-year-old daughter, whose number was used to file a fraudulent tax
"The regulation would make a difference in that we wouldn't have
to wait until there was actual damage to her credit to request a
new number," she wrote. "We already know that there has been a
theft, it's already been used fraudulently, and without the ability
to start fresh, there is no way to prevent fraud from
to the Social Security Administration supported the change. The
Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department said they
support the idea, though they suggested raising the age of those
eligible for new numbers to 18 and under, since many identity-theft
victims might not realize they've been victimized until they start
their first jobs.
Other supporters included child-welfare agencies and foster care
One of the few opponents was a representative of LifeLock, an
identity-theft protection company, who said placing more numbers
into circulation would be confusing and could exacerbate fraud,
since roughly two-thirds of people who misuse children's Social
Security number are the child's parents.
The proposal is unlikely to end the practice of stealing and
using children's Social Security numbers, says Jamie May, vice
president of customer service with AllClearID, a company that
monitors customer credit reports for fraud.
She says she sees dramatic consequences of stolen numbers, such
as one teen who found out upon applying to college that her credit
report showed she owed $750,000. The girl had to delay entering
college until she straightened out the mess.
"The harm is really in the missed opportunities -- waiting a
semester to enroll in college, or not being able to move out of
their parents' house or get a job," she says.
Some states have passed laws that make it easier to freeze kids'
credit files, says May. She would like to see credit agencies use
some other way to verify identity besides just checking that a
person used a valid Social Security number. The number was never
intended to be used to establish credit.
Still, receiving a new number would be a "valuable tool for kids
who have serious problems," she says.
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