Stealing from children: Thieves prey on kids' identities

By Emma Lunn

It's not just adults who need to worry about fraud and identity theft -- children can be victims too.

For some fraudsters, children make easy targets because they typically are not aware they've been victims of identity theft until they reach 18 and check their credit reports or are turned down for credit. Here's how these disturbing crimes work -- and how to protect your kids

ID-swiping and grave-robbing
The most common form of child ID theft involves thieves using the names of minors to create new identities that they can then use to open credit cards and take out loans.

In some cases, this form of fraud takes a ghoulish turn. child-id-theft

"Fraudsters will usually trawl public records to do this and, in some cases, which have been reported in the media, use the identity of deceased children," says Duncan Bowker of credit reference agency CallCredit.

This kind of fraud has been dubbed "Day of the Jackal Fraud." A dead child is then impersonated years later when they would have become an adult. It's named after Frederick Forsyth's novel, which revealed the criminal possibilities of assuming the identity of the dead.

Even living under-18s are targeted because it is unlikely for them to have  criminal backgrounds, which might raise red flags and foil the fraudsters' efforts if they were to choose adult victims. ID theft gangs then build up enough paperwork to apply for passports and other paperwork that can allow them to access credit when the child reaches 18.

Keeping your child safe
When it comes to child identity theft, protecting a child's information is the only line of defence. As people don't have credit reports until they are 18 -- when they are old enough to have credit -- it's impossible for parents to actually check their child's credit report. Once children turn 18, it's up to them to check that the information on their report is correct and to notify credit reference agencies of any mistakes.

Although fraudsters have many sophisticated ways of stealing a child's identity, one of the most popular ones is quite easy -- swiping the pieces of information a child has shared willingly. And young people often do that on social media, says Neil Munroe, external affairs director at credit reference agency Equifax.

"It's really important that parents encourage their children to be very careful about who they share their information with on [web]sites," Munroe says. "Definitely don't give away information that could reveal date of birth.  And they should be careful that they're not revealing information about Mum and Dad either because that could give fraudsters an easy way to steal their identities, too."

Another piece of technology that is now commonplace in today's society, but which can put children's information at risk, is the smartphone. A stolen smartphone can provide a thief with account passwords, email addresses, home addresses and home telephone numbers -- some of the pieces of information needed to forge documents to open accounts in a child's name.

"You can't walk down a street or sit on a bus without seeing children and teenagers completely engrossed in their iPhones, Blackberries and other mobile devices," Munroe says. "But how secure are they making these devices if they are lost or stolen? At the risk of generalising too much, it is probably the younger generations that are most likely to have personal items stolen when they are out and about.  And this makes them the perfect target for fraudsters." 

Campaigns such as the National Fraud Authority-backed The Devil's in Your Details campaign can be useful when teaching your child about fraud and identity theft. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of protecting personal information -- and to inform kids and parents alike about how to recognize fraudsters.

See related: 4 ways to teach children about credit, 10 tips for your first credit card

Published: 21 June 2012