SID SALTER: Parents are stealing children's identities and with them their credit

By Joe Rutherford

During the holiday season – when most parents and grandparents are working so hard to provide a nice Christmas morning for their children – there are a few parents and grandparents who are giving their children or grandchildren a different kind of surprise.
The crime of identity theft is one that is growing in the niche of parents or grandparents stealing the identities of their children or grandchildren.
Had the numbers
The crime can be perpetrated in a number of ways. Parents or grandparents can use the Social Security numbers of minor children to open fraudulent credit cards or other charge accounts. For older children who are of age to establish credit in their own right, unscrupulous parents are intercepting “pre-approved” credit cards applications sent to the older child and authorizing and using those cards without the knowledge of the child.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were about 10 million Americans victimized by identity theft in the last year and of those about 9 percent of victims identified the thief as a family member or other relative.
In addition to unscrupulous families members, federal officials say the credit card companies have some culpability as well. Minors normally can’t legally get credit cards since they can’t enter into a contract until they are 18. But identity thieves can get away with using the Social Security numbers of minors because many who issue credit may not demand proof of age or may be duped by forged documentation.
Adult children and minors alike suffer long term damage from these crimes, according to groups like the Identity Theft Resource Center (idtheftcenter.org) and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (privacyrights.org). That damage obviously takes the form of subjecting the victim to criminal or civil charges, long term damage to credit ratings and, more importantly, some significant emotional and psychological injuries.
How does one go about repairing family relationship and re-establishing trust in a family broken by such reckless behavior?
Hood can help
Charles E. Nelson, Ph.D is a psychologist and the director of the Crime and Trauma Recovery Program in San Diego, Calif., has likened a parent’s theft of a child’s identity to sexual abuse – both represent betrayals by people the children believed they could trust.
For identity theft victims in general or for victims who are targeted by family members, Attorney General Jim Hood’s office has substantial resources at (www.ago.state. ms.us) through the state’s Cyber Crime Center. Hood has been a leader nationwide in a number of cyber crimes the impact children.
Perhaps the foremost preventative measure is to protect your child’s Social Security number even from family and friends. One never knows.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter, Perspective editor at the Clarion-Ledger, at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.