LEE COUNTY –
Scammers are using parents to steal their children’s identity.
“It happens at such a young age; they have so much life ahead of them, and it really can ruin their life,” said Beth Schell, who leads the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Unit.
Schell said identity theft among children is on the rise, and the numbers could be much higher. So far this year, deputies have already received 639 fraud reports. Researchers at AllClear ID said that right now, children may be victimized at a rate 35 times higher than their parents.
“People don’t even know that they’re being victimized because they don’t check their credit until they’re 18,” Schell said.
Briyanka Handa is a first-time Fort Myers mom and said she fears for the future of her nine-month-old son.
“That’s scary. There’s enough to worry about being a parent, you know, having to worry about this is just something extra,” Handa said. “It’s going to be years until we figure it out and probably by that time they have gotten away with it.”
Scammers are banking on back to school. Schell said thieves target children this time of year as parents give out personal information to enroll students in school or sports activities. Fraudsters could pose as an organization online or on the phone and may even work at a place you trust.
“It’s almost like you’re victimized twice. The first time the suspect victimizes you by taking your identity, ruining your credit. The second part of being a victim is now having to prove you are who you say you are,” Schell said.
Schell told NBC2 that thieves count on the fact that no one is checking a child’s credit. Scammers enroll in credit cards, or even buy cars and houses under your kid’s name. Victims may not even know it until they graduate high school and begin applying for college loans.
“It’s never too early to start checking what’s happening with your kid’s financial,” Handa said.
Schell suggests parents monitor their children’s credit just as they do their own. She also said parents should call the credit bureaus and apply a freeze. That way if anyone tries to use your child’s information, you will be alerted first.