|Updated: 11/22/2011 9:46 am
||Published: 11/21/2011 2:51 pm
When Axton Betz applied for an apartment - rental and utility companies checked her credit, and she got some shocking news. The college student, who had never even taken out a loan or credit card, was thousands of dollars in debt. She requested her first credit report and, stunned, found page after page of unpaid accounts.
"I was devastated," Betz said.
Axton says the thief who stole her social security number started running up bills when she was just a kid.
With her credit ruined, she had to pay a deposit just to get the lights turned on. The lowest car loan rate she could get was 18%, and the lowest credit card interest rate she could get was 29%.
"It's been life changing and life defining," Betz said.
Recent studies report anywhere from 140,000 to 400,000 children a year are ID theft victims.
"The kids were being targeted at a rate of 51 times the adults," Bo Holland of All Clear ID said.
High-tech thieves take children's pristine social security numbers - add a fake name, then open a cell phone or utility account.
Just like that, a new credit history is established. And the theft usually isn't caught until the child becomes a young adult.
"The first day they go into the credit market when they're 18 they could be in for a very ugly surprise," Tom Sscherwitz, of ID Analytics said.
The new and exploding part of the problem is that these numbers are being sold online.
All clear ID works with police on investigations and has special access to these underground criminal network sites, where kid's social security numbers are offered for only about $1.50 to $15.00.
"There are hundreds of these sites unfortunately," Holland said.
Experts say most of these numbers are gathered through viruses programmed to find financial documents on your computer like tax returns and medical records.
Some are even programmed for theft of school or hospital records.
"Parents should be alarmed, this is a very significant problem," Holland said.
Experts say limit the places you provide your child's social security number. If an agency requests it, ask why it's needed and what precautions are taken to keep it private.
Make sure your computer's virus protection is up to date, monitor your child's number.
"The longer the fraud goes uncovered, the harder it is to clear up the mess." Oscherwitz said.
Axton continues to clean up the mess. Letters from creditors still haunt her.
"I'm always wondering, ‘When is the next collection letter going to arrive?’ ‘When is the next court summons going to arrive?’"
She says not only did the thief steal her social security number, but they also stole her early adult years and turned them into a financial disaster.