DETROIT – Parents do everything they can to keep their children safe, but there's one crime targeting children that happens without warning and can go unnoticed for years.
Crooks are targeting children as young as 6 months old, by opening up credit accounts and racking up major debt.
There are steps parents can take to protect their children's identities.
What to do if your child's identity is stolen:
- Contact all three credit bureaus.
- Notify businesses where the ID was used.
- File a police report.
- File a report at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Consider place credit freezes.
- Consider credit monitoring.
Parents worry about everything from the food children eat to the toys they play with and making sure their teeth are brushed.
But when it comes to protection, there's one crucial area many of them miss: protecting their identities.
"I have to keep proving my son is who my son is when it's his identity that's being used," said Sara Woodington, whose son's identity was stolen. "They told me at that time his social had come up in Texas."
Woodington said her son, John, is 18, disabled and can't work. The family has never lived in Texas, but for the last five years, someone has been using his Social Security number to get a string of dishwashing and kitchen jobs in Austin.
"It just kept going on and he just keep getting job after job," Woodington said.
She said that threatened her son's Social Security benefits.
"I have to keep going back to social security every three months and explain again that my son is not working," Woodington said.
The thief's still out there, never staying at one job for more than a couple of months and always leaving behind a bogus home address.
"I contacted police and they said contact the IRS," Woodington said. "I contact the IRS; they say there's nothing they can do. I contact Social Security; they say there's nothing they can do."
She has no idea where the man got her son's identity.
Identity thieves can get a child's information through data breathes, files in doctor's offices or spoof phone numbers to trick parents who think they're talking to a school or government office.
"There are two main categories of victims: senior citizens and children," cyber crime expert Brett Johnson said. "What's even more valuable is a child's ID."
Johnson is a reformed cybercriminal who now works with law enforcement.
"So on the dark web you can buy a child's identity for $2," Johnson said.
He said a child's identity is a blank slate, so there are no concerns about bad credit or existing debt. A thief can use a child's entire identity or just part of the personal information to create a fictitious persona and get credit cards, loans, homes, cars or a job.
"That's one of the things that criminals understand," Johnson said. "The only thing of value is the information."
A child's identity is also valued because a thief can use it for years without anyone noticing.
"Parents do not know or don't realize because they're not proactively checking," Johnson said.
Parents should check their children's credit report regularly and ask tough questions when asked to provide personal information.
"You can ask, 'Hey how are you protecting my information?'" Houston police Detective Eric Carr said. "You don't want your information just in a file where anyone could get access to it."
Also, pay attention to which apps children are using. If your child suddenly gets credit card or mortgage refinance officers or grocery store coupons in the mail, it's a sign their identity might have been compromised.
Parents should proactively put freezes on their children's identities so accounts can't be opened.
Experts say parents should talk to their children about not giving out their personal information.