St. George Spectrum
Article published Apr 25, 2007
Theft of our children's IDs
In 2005, the Utah Attorney General's office reported that an investigation had "uncovered an alarming new crime spree involving illegal aliens and identities stolen from victims under the age of 12." That investigation only looked at the Social Security numbers of children on public assistance and yet it found that approximately 1,800 kids had their Social Security numbers being used by someone else.
A year later, a follow-up investigation revealed that the number of 12-year-olds whose Social Security numbers were being used by another person had tripled and many children were being victimized multiple times. In fact, one child's Social Security number was being used by 37 different individuals. Since children on public assistance only make up a small percentage of all Utah children, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 children may be the victims of identity theft.
Furthermore, 1,626 companies were found to be making salary payments to Social Security numbers that belong to children under the age of 12. This means that these companies are failing to protect the most vulnerable members of our community.
We must all be concerned about this serious crime because, according to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, "Identity thieves ... will steal your children's ID, ruin their credit and hurt them in ways never thought possible before they can graduate from grade school. Children are vulnerable even if parents do everything right."
The reason children are so vulnerable is that an individual creating a false Social Security card may either use a child's actual number when available or he will simply make up a Social Security number. If that number hasn't been assigned, it may be given to a newborn at a future date and that child will literally be born into identity theft. In either case, the person using a child's number can generally count on being able to use it for many years before the theft becomes known.
The impact of child identity theft is devastating for the family as well as for the child. At a minimum, it will take the parents hundreds of hours and likely thousands of dollars to reclaim their child's identity and there is no guarantee that the problem will not reoccur. If the theft isn't discovered until the child is older, she may find that she is ineligible for financial assistance to pursue her studies, may not be able to get a credit card, may have to clear criminal charges associated with her Social Security number and may be denied public benefits including critically needed medical assistance.
So what can be done to protect our children from this rapidly growing crime? According to Shurtleff, "Employers can help by being more vigilant during the hiring process and verifying an applicant's Social Security number" and Assistant Attorney General Richard Hamp told a legislative committee that employment verification would go a long way toward curbing identity theft in Utah.
Thus, a solution exists to the problem but unfortunately, in spite of requests by citizens groups in St. George and elsewhere, businesses and governments still fail to use the federal government's free, Basic Pilot program to verify Social Security numbers and eligibility to work in the United States.
The sad truth is that Utah families will continue to be victimized by this identity theft epidemic as long as businesses and governments are unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect our children from identity thieves.
Ronald W. Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service officer who served three tours in Africa and continues to respond to international humanitarian crises in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.