The first time Axton Betz applied for an apartment, rental and utility companies checked her credit and she got some shocking news: the college student who had never even taken out a loan or credit card was thousands of dollars in debt. She requested her first credit report and, stunned, found page after page of unpaid accounts.
"I was devastated," said Betz.
Betz says the thief who stole her Social Security number started running up bills when she was just a kid. With her credit ruined she had to pay a deposit just to get the lights turned on. The lowest car loan rate she could get was 18 percent and the lowest credit card interest rate she could get was 29 percent.
"It's been life-changing and life-defining," said Betz.
And Betz is far from alone. Recent studies report anywhere from 140,000 to 400,000 children a year are identity-theft victims.
"The kids were being targeted at a rate of 51 times the adults," said Bo Holland, founder and CEO of AllClearID.
High-tech thieves take children's pristine Social Security numbers, which have never appeared in the credit reporting system, add a fake name, then open a cellphone or utility account and a new credit history is established. They then use it to borrow more money.
The new and exploding part of the problem is that these numbers are sold online. Black-market websites offer the stolen Social Security numbers.
And how thieves get the numbers may stun parents: Experts say mostly from viruses programmed to find financial documents on your computer like tax returns, medical records. Some are also from data breaches and theft of school or hospital records.
To help avoid child ID theft:
- Limit the places you provide your child's Social Security number.
- If an agency requests it, ask why it's needed and what precautions are taken to keep it private.
- Make sure your computer's virus protection is up to date.
"I'm always wondering when is the next collection letter going to arrive, when is the next court summons going to arrive," said Betz.