Special Report: Credit Crooks
Imagine a child with over a dozen credit cardsóand thousands of dollars in debt.
Now meet Shiloh Pucket. At age ten, her credit has already been ruined.
And the person responsible? Her own mother.
"It was a means of necessity," explains Cindy Puckett. "We needed help."
According to Linda Foley of the Identity Theft Resource Center, this is not uncommon.
"Child identity theft is one of the most vicious crimes I can think of," Foley says.
Thatís right. Itís children who are the latest victims of identity theft. In fact, experts estimate over half a million kids have their identities stolen and credit ruined each year.
"Their future has ended before their life really has begun," Foley says.
But itís not always a relative to blame. The crook can be a complete stranger who gets a hold of your childís social security number, and starts applying for credit.
"Once they have that number, they can go and open up accounts," explains Robert Siciliano, another identity theft expert.
Children are a big target for thieves because they have unblemished credit and the crime can go unnoticed for years.
"When someoneís applied for credit when they were five years old, thatís thirteen years from when itís discovered," Foley explains. "And that entire credit report has probably been ruined."
But, there are ways for parents to protect their kids.
First, when you apply for your childís social security number, make sure the card arrives in the mail.
"Mail is the path of least resistance for identity thieves," Siciliano says.
Once you have the card, put it away in a safe place.
"Please, moms, stop carrying your kidsí social security numbers in your wallets," Foley advises. "That is just an open invitation to theft."
Donít put their social security numbers on non-essential forms like daycare or camp applicationsóeven if asked.
"Even if a school asks for your childís social security number, the reality is they have to provide an education for them whether you give it or not," Foley explains.
Keep an eye on their credit report. Any activity is a red flag.
"Itís important that parents not only check their own credit reports every four to six months, but they should also check that of their child," Siciliano advises.
Shilohís mom was caught and spent six months in jail. But other credit crooks are still out there, willing to prey on innocent children to fund their greed.
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