Mass. Children Victims Of ID Theft

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — Identity theft remains one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Everyone, regardless of their age, is a potential target.

Buying a luxury yacht is something you associate with a tycoon, not a seven-year-old boy. But Zach Friesen apparently bought one when he was in the second grade.

“Someone got hold my identity, just my social and my name and was able to borrow $40,000 against my name,” explained Friesen. “I didn’t find out about that for 10 years,”

Friesen didn’t learn his identity had been stolen until he applied for his first part-time job and student loan. He was denied both because of his credit history.

“My credit score was very, very bad as you can imagine,” he said. “$40,000 worth of debt over the course of 10 years could do that. Now when I cleared my name, that didn’t clear the negative score I had.”

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports.

Zach’s family thinks his name and social security number were stolen from a sign-in sheet at a doctor’s office. Children might not have any assets, but their personal information is still very valuable on the black market.

Becky Maier of the Better Business Bureau took just a couple of minutes on the Internet before she found social security numbers with no credit history for sale. One was going for $800.

“It’s a social security number that’s registered with somebody, but it’s not registered with the credit bureaus,” she explained.

There are some signs which indicate a child’s identity is at risk. For example, if telemarketers call and ask specifically for a child.

Another red flag: if credit card offers come in the mail addressed to a minor.

Maier said, “If a parent doesn’t know the signs to look for, they could seniors in high school, seniors in college before they find they have thousands in debts.”

That’s exactly what happened to Zach. He’s now an advocate and educator on children’s privacy issues. He also says parents can check with credit agencies.

“The beauty of most children is they don’t have a report so you go to Transunion, Equifax, or Experion, and you say, ’I want the credit report for my child.’ They will say, ‘We don’t have one.’ Great, that’s how you want to keep it,” said Friesen.

Experts also say parents should talk to their kids at an early age about this issue, particularly as they get involved in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They need to understand how to protect sensitive personal information.

Massachusetts is one of seven states which allows any consumer to get a free credit report annually. For more information, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website.


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