Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/4/2010
02:09 PM
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Advocates Propose Child ID Theft Prevention Database

Database, to be shared with credit reporting agencies, would verify if a social security number belongs to a minor.

With the increasing theft of children's identities, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has issued a call for the Social Security Administration and Department of Justice to create a tool for credit issuers to assess whether a social security number belongs to a minor.

"The credit issuers currently are blind, they have no way of knowing which year the social security number was issued, but even that wouldn't help, because it could have just been issued to a 40-year-old person who just got citizenship," said Linda Foley, co-executive director of the ITRC, founded to help prevent identity theft and support identity theft victims.

The "Minors 17-10 Database" proposed by the ITRC would contain the name, social security number, and month and year of birth for every child, between birth to the age of 17 years and 10 months. "We don't want to provide information to the thieves, which is why there are limited fields," said Foley. Furthermore, the list's purpose would be very specific: "so a credit reporting agency could tell an agency, such as Chase, that the social security number belongs to a minor," she said. Legally speaking, minors cannot sign contracts, thus any such application would have to be immediately rejected.

Today, 8% to 9% of the calls received by the ITRC concern child identity theft. Of course, many of the calls come from people who discover their identity was stolen only after they've reached adulthood and first tried to apply for credit. Unfortunately, it becomes much more difficult to clear your credit reports at that point.

The ITRC first proposed creating a database of kids' social security numbers in 2005, but says the idea has lately been getting more traction. Perhaps that's because social security numbers belonging to children are a hot commodity on the black market since they come without a credit report attached, making them ideal for fraud. Furthermore, "it's an 18-year window of opportunity," if thieves can find them, said Foley, or even longer if thieves luck into a "dormant" number that hasn't yet been issued.

As a precedent for creating such a database, Foley cites the Social Security Administration's Death Master File, which is a list of everyone with a social security number who's passed away. It's distributed to the three credit reporting agencies so they can mark credit reports as "deceased."

Establishing the minors database wouldn't happen overnight. "There are some legalities that will have to be overcome, due to the Patriot Act," said Foley. Furthermore, the database would have to be quite secure, and available only to approved entities in exchange for their promising certain security levels and safeguards.

But if the minors database does become a reality, it would not only help protect the identities and social security numbers of children, but also "save hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of business loss" for credit issuers, she said.

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