I heard on National Pubic Radio (NPR) that about 10% of children face stolen social security number (SSN) cases. Although social security number theft affects people of all ages, races and genders, children are more vulnerable to the misuse of their social security numbers because first, their parents do not periodically and actively monitor their identities and second, they do not engage in transactions whereby identity fraud may be detected due to the verification of their personal records or credit to process the transaction.
The specific child identity theft story I heard on NPR reported by Andrea Smardon was about a child whose parents discovered that their child’s SSN was stolen and misused before the child was born. Yes, what attracted my attention to this stolen social security number story was that the personal identifier which happened to be the SSN in this case was stolen and used by identity thieves before the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued and assigned the number to the child when he was born. This incident of an SSN being misused before the SSA formally issued the number raises many questions but primarily what steps does the SSA take to ensure the social security numbers that it issues and assigns to new borns are clear of any fraud and misuse? How could the SSA unknowingly issue stolen social security numbers? I am certain that the SSA does not knowingly issue a stolen social security number but I wonder which scenario is worse.
Misuse of stolen Social security numbers is not an uncommon occurrence and in fact when we consider the negligence applied by all parties, we can see the storm clouds present over the protection and integrity of social security numbers as personal identifiers. First, as evidenced in this reported incident, we learn that the SSA is issuing social security numbers which already exist and are in full circulation within our society, next, given the number of employment and credit identity theft cases, we can assume that employers and creditors are not doing a good job at verifying the connection of a given SSN to the person who is providing the SSN as their own identifier, and third, people fail to monitor their identities especially the social security number of their children looking for potential signs of stolen social security number and identity fraud possibly due cost considerations or lack of awareness. The combination of these careless behaviors by all parties leads to increase risks of stolen social security number and misuse.
The worst part of the theft of a social security number is the aftermath of such cases. As I continued to listen to this story, I could not believe that parents who discover that their child’s identity has been stolen and misused for many years have no immediate and quick solution. Given that identity theft is relatively a new crime at the scale that we see today; the police departments don’t have clear directions about what to do to help the victims of identity theft and their parents. In this particular case and surprisingly, the Social Security Administration even refused to take responsibility and help the parents correct the issue that they helped create by failing to verify that the new social security number they were issuing was clean and without any past history. This is like selling a defective product and refusing to acknowledge and fix the problem. Any company in the private sector would be punished for selling defective products and forced to fix the problem and make sure it never happens again. Wasn't Starbucks sued for selling hot coffee?
After being rejected by various parties, the parents were finally able to attract the attention of their Attorney General to investigate the matter however parents who face child identity theft cases must be patient as it may take months or years to clean a child’s identity history depending on the severity of the cases. But, all the efforts made before the child reaches the legal age to apply for credit or employment is worth it since the young adult will be able to move on with his life without delay and having to fight matters that we created for them before they were born in some cases.
As we can see, social security number theft can occur before a person is born as well as after the SSN is issued regardless of whether the person received the SSN at birth or upon coming to the country as an immigrant.
We need to monitor our identities and look for signs of stolen social security number and if we detect a case of SSN misuse, we need to ask for and receive help from any entity which is willing to help out and clear the negative SSN history as soon as possible. I hope that the Social Security Administration will take the necessary steps to prevent such incidents that they help create by failing to apply due diligence in their SSN management and operations and help those victims who report SSN misuse and desperately look for help.