“We don’t have good statistics on the scope of child identity theft,” Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told BuzzFeed News. “But it’s common enough that we hear from people on a regular basis, either parents who are calling us because they somehow found out their children’s information has been used, or kids themselves call us when they are getting a student loan or car loan and find out they have credit history that’s precluding them from moving forward with their lives.”
Minors are attractive targets for identity theft. Because of their young age, they have clean credit reports and often don’t discover the theft until they reach adulthood and apply for credit, John Krebs, identity theft program manager with the Federal Trade Commission, told BuzzFeed News. And their social security number and other personal information is easily available to family members — so easily available that there are cases of parents secretly using their adult children’s information to open lines of credit.
Hailee, a 23-year-old community college student in Pennsylvania, told BuzzFeed News she is working off $500 in debt on a credit card she didn’t know existed until recently. Her mother opened the account in her name in 2015 and used it to replace a broken air conditioner. Hailee said she didn’t discover the account until Wells Fargo began pestering her about late payments.
“I wasn’t making that much money,” said Hailee, who asked to be identified by her first name only. “If [my mom] had just asked me in the first place, I would’ve seen if there was anything I could do to help out. Instead, I find out one day that I’m $500 in debt.”
Hilary O’Byrne, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News it could not comment on Hailee’s account, but it has “extensive security measures to protect customers from fraudulent activity.” But it doesn’t discuss security procedures in detail, “as doing so could jeopardize their effectiveness.”
Hailee said she feels betrayed by her mother’s actions, but she’s not going to file charges. “I would never send my mom to jail or put her in a situation where she has to go to court,” she said. “It’s hard in these times to remember your parents love you and it sucks you’re being taken advantage of.”
This form of identity theft is not always malicious, Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, told BuzzFeed News. “A lot of times parents are desperate,” she said. “The heat has been shut off, the light has been shut off. You can’t get service with your own information, so they use a child’s identity to get service.”
Krebs at the FTC said this kind of fraud “may be different from running up a bunch of credit card bills, but is the impact the same? Yes.”