Why hackers want kids’ personal information

Why hackers want kids’ personal information
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Data breaches give hackers a chance to cash in, and no personal information is more valuable to cyber criminals than a child’s. 

It’s a surprising fact in the age of the massive cyberattack. While adults might fret when their financial data is stolen in a breach, it’s their kids’ identities they should be worried about, experts say. 

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“A child's Social Security number can be used by identity thieves to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service, or rent a place to live,” says the Federal Trade Commission. 

Typically, childhood identity theft is the work of a parent. But as hackers gain access to Social Security numbers in health insurance and other breaches, it is likely that more and more children will lose their identities to cyber criminals. 

This issue is of increasing concern to lawmakers. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) last month introduced legislation to give parents the ability to create a protected, frozen credit file for their children. So far, the bill has seen no action. 

Here are five reasons why hackers want to steal children’s personal information. 

1) It’s lucrative.

A Social Security number opens the door to credit, and a hacker with several stolen Social Security numbers can use them to gain fraudulent cards and loans. A Social Security number can also help an identity thief secure medical care or government benefits. 

2) It’s hard to detect. 

Unlike adults, children don’t typically have credit reports. This means a cyber criminal can establish an entire credit history for a child before parents even realize the fraud is taking place, experts say. 

Parents also fear that checking their kids’ credit will harm it. The risk is even higher for children in foster care, who spend time in many homes and have no one to consistently protect their information. 

3) It’s hard to prevent. 

Consumer advocates recommend that parents concerned about criminals targeting their kids place a freeze on any existing credit reports. But it is difficult to place a freeze unless some kind of fraud is already taking place, according to experts. 

Langevin’s bill — the Protect Children from Theft Act — would make it easier for parents to proactively freeze their kids’ credit and has been touted by children’s advocates and law enforcement.

4) Few people are aware of the problem. 

Many people might not know when they are a victim of a data breach, let alone when their children are at risk of identity theft. Even when disclosure rules require a breached entity to notify victims, experts describe a sense of notification overload that can stop families from taking the right steps when a breach has happened. 

5) The consequences can last for decades. 

Hackers could spent more than a decade preying on a child’s credit before the fraud is discovered, and by that time, it is possible that repairs will be difficult to make.

“Bad credit or credit discrepancies can affect your child’s ability to get a job, to apply for financial aid, to join the military, to pass a security check for travel, and more,” the Identity Theft Resource Center wrote in a memo. 

“Even if the matter gets resolved, it can mean your child will be burdened with a black mark on his credit that he’ll have to explain at every turn, and can even mean his first real credit card may carry a punitively high interest rate.”