Child Identity Theft on the Rise

Soon after a baby is born, their identity can be stolen. The threat only gets worse as the child gets older. Child identity theft has grown by 78%. As many as 400,000 children may be victims of identity theft.

This is an alarming statistic even for Nacogdoches High School Principal Dennis Williams. He's also a parent. "Sometimes I'm a little bit leery of it, putting Social Security numbers out there, " Williams said.

Williams said he's pleased many school districts, including his own, have changed student identification methods, beginning with ID cards. Director of technology Michael Martin said, "We changed from Social Security numbers being the ID to a locally randomly-generated ID number for students, and also for our employees. We used to post all the Social Security number digits on their checks. Now we use only the last four numbers."

Occasionally, forms requiring Social Security numbers will surface in student's backpacks. Parents are encouraged to ask if the number is absolutely necessary. Often, the requirement can be substituted with the child's student ID number.

The fear is someone dishonest will obtain a child's number. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced legislation to make sure all credit card companies providing access to credit are able to verify the applicant's age. She says her bill would fine credit card companies that didn't comply. Clinton says she's heard of one story in which a thief used a seven-year-old's name, Social Security number, and clean credit history to purchase a $40,000 houseboat.

There's also a close watch to where kids and school staff go on the computer. Software can detect questionable sites every 15 minutes. Martin said, "We filter all content and we block quite a bit of content from getting in. We take into account things like web sites like MySpace." Now there are "get around sites" that enable a user to get past blocks. Three were detected on school computers last week. They've since been blocked.

Parents can follow some of the same proactive moves taken by school districts. Martin suggested, "Just make sure they keep their Social Security number as private as possible. Don't give it out. Make sure if they receive something with that number on it to file it or discard it properly." Simple precautions may protect the most vulnerable victim from becoming someone they don't even know.