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Special section Child identity theft

Illegal immigrants, criminals and family members top the list of culprits.

How your child's stolen identity can be used

In many cases, a criminal steals an identity in order to use the victim's credit. But in most cases, a child has no credit to steal. So why is child identity theft a growing problem?

Who steals a child's identity?
Experts say a child's stolen identity can be used by:
1.Immigrants seeking to establish a legal identity.
2.Someone with bad credit trying to establish new credit.
3.Someone within the family.
4.Criminals trying to establish new identities.

1. Immigrants seeking to establish a legal identity. Detective Brian Money of the Economic Crimes Unit of the Riverside Police Department in Riverside, Calif., says his department is quite familiar with the child identity theft problem. Two officers in the department have children whose identities were stolen.

"The most significant one that comes to mind is a case where one of our officer's 1½-year-old child was a victim of fraudulent Social Security number use. The thief was using the child's Social Security number to work and obtain credit," says Money.

He says police had possible addresses for the suspect, who apparently used his real name. Money decided to create a "ruse" letter, which is a letter to trick the suspect into coming into the police station.

"The letter stated that the suspect had been involved in a hit-and-run collision in our city. I asked that he come in and bring his vehicle for examination," says Money.

Since he wasn't actually involved in the fake accident, the suspect willingly came in. The detective gave the suspect a form to complete that included an area for his Social Security number.

"The suspect used the child's number and I took him into custody," says Money. He says the perpetrator pleaded guilty for a felony and is believed to be deported.

A couple of years ago, Utah's Assistant Attorney General Richard Hamp was prosecuting more than 30 illegal immigrants on mortgage fraud. He, along with investigators from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, examined the misused Social Security numbers and found that some of the numbers belonged to children.

"I thought there must have been other ways that the kids' Social Security numbers were compromised," says Hamp.

So he compared the children's Social Security numbers in the state's public assistance database, which is less than 1 percent of the population, with workers in the state's work force database.

"We ended up with 200 kids under the age of 12 whose numbers were misused by someone in the work force," says Hamp.

His investigation started "Operation Protect the Children," which targets identity theft against kids in Utah through a joint investigation with the attorney general's office, Social Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Hamp says when the staff chases down the culprits, "95 percent of the time it's illegal immigrants."

"They need the number to get work," he says.

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