Parental Identity Theft Statistics
Identity theft experts say that parental identity theft accounts for only a small percentage of identity theft cases in this country every year, but they warn that the percentage appears to be rising. Due to the delicate nature of the crime and the fact that the crimes often continue for years before the victims discover that they're thousands of dollars in debt, the true number of child identity theft victims is difficult to gauge.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is responsible for tracking identity theft and providing information and other resources to prevent it, estimates that six percent of all victims had their personal information stolen by a family member. However, the FTC doesn't track how many children have their identities stolen by their own parents.
One expert researching parental identity theft reported that in 2003, around three percent of victims were children victimized by the parents. In 2006, the same expert found that the percentage had risen to five percent. More recent child identity theft data aren't available, but given the economic hardship inflicted on many families by the Great Recession, it's likely that the percentage of child victims has only risen.
Parents are in a unique position to steal their children's identities, because they have such easy access to the children's Social Security numbers and other personal information. In addition, they can intercept mail to prevent the kids (and other family members) from discovering that they owe thousands to credit card companies, merchants, and others. Many victims have no idea that they're in debt until they apply for credit cards or submit college applications. When victims do learn that their parents have run up debts, defaulted on them, and ruined their credit, many of them don't report the crime, due to family loyalty.
Making matters worse, many parents who commit child identity theft steadfastly dispute any suggestion that what they've done is illegal or immoral. They justify their actions by thinking that they'll pay off the debt before their children are of age. They figure that if they pay off the debt before the three-year-old is ready for credit, the child's credit history won't suffer.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that parental identity theft tends to do the following:
- Create a long, uphill battle for kids to re-establish their credit — through no fault of the kids
- Irrevocably damage parents' relationships with their children and other family members, and set an incredibly poor example
- Rely on their victims' unwillingness to file police reports and press charges, which is a critical step in recovering from identity theft
If parents want to use their kids' personal information to commit identity theft, there isn't much that five-year-olds — or even 15-year-olds — can do to prevent it. However, once they reach the age of 18 and are legal adults, there are proactive steps that children can take to protect their identities and their credit histories — identity monitoring, credit monitoring, and more. Whether these children can repair the fractured relationship that typically results from parental identity theft is another question entirely.