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A strange twist in identity theft

Having your identity stolen can be unnerving. What if you know the person? This brings up many questions on who to trust.

Identity theft experts have discovered a small but growing proportion of identity fraud is perpetrated by parents. Some victimize children who are old enough to establish credit in their own right. Others use the Social Security numbers of their minor children to set up fraudulent accounts that the victims might not discover for years.

Two years ago you almost never heard about parent perpetrators . Now Linda Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center, gets “several complaints a week� from victims or from other adults who have uncovered the crimes.

Typically a minor can not get credit cards, since they can’t be held to a contract until they are of legal age (18). However, thieves; particularly their parents, can get away with using the children’s Social Security numbers because credit issuers may not demand proof of age or may be fooled by forged documents.
A credit file will begin with the first application of a credit card or loan inquiry. This information being given for the first time is accepted as factual.

The Federal Trade Commission reported earlier this year that nearly 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in the last year. It was found that 9% of victims identified the thief as a family member or other relative. The agency did not publish statistics about how many of the credit thieves were the victim’s parents.

But parents, especially those of minor children, have unique opportunities to steal. They know their children’s Social Security numbers which is the key piece of information needed to open accounts. Also the parent can usually cover up clues, an example is interception of mail and phone calls that could tip off other family members to the crime. When the crime is uncovered, many can rely on family loyalty to protect them from prosecution.

Such identity theft is far from a victimless crime. The parent’s actions put long-lasting black marks on their children’s credit, can increase the interest rates charged for loans or even increased rent or down payment charges on an apartment. In some cases the child may be contacted by a collections agency threatening to take them to court.

The average ID theft victim spends many hours trying to clean up the mess and problems that sometimes persist for years. In some cases it’s not possible to get the messes fixed because the child is not willing to file the needed police report on the parent. Without the police report lenders and credit reporting agencies will not remove or correct the data on the fraudulent account. No child wants their parent arrested or prosecuted.

Some victims do consider changing their Social Security number. This is a drastic and difficult step, one that the Social Security Administration typically discourages. It’s not a good solution if you have a significant work or credit history that you could lose in the change-over. But if you’re young and just starting out and you can keep the new number a secret from your parent, it could be one solution. The Social Security Administration’s Web site has information about getting a new number.

As an adult you may also have been the victim of identity theft and are looking for some extra cash to offset the cost of this theft. Search online for unclaimed property. It is a fact that nine out of ten Americans have unclaimed cash.

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