An 11-Year-Old With Bad Credit? Mother Fights for Son's Identity

Jake LeGetteCourtesy Lori LeGette
Getting a bank account in his name was supposed to have been yet another milestone in 11-year-old Jake LeGette's life. But someone beat him to it -- using his Social Security number.

Getting a bank account in his name was supposed to have been yet another milestone in 11-year-old Jake LeGette's life. But someone beat him to it -- using his Social Security number.

"We went to the bank to open up a savings account," his mother, Lori LeGette, told ABCNews.com, "and the customer service rep at the bank questioned his Social [Security number]."

Turns out the fifth-grader's identity had been stolen years ago and a yet-unidentified woman had used his Social Security number to buy a house, numerous cars -- even a bank account at the same bank where Jake's parents took him to deposit the $500 he'd saved from mowing lawns, allowances and birthday gifts.

Now the Florida mom, also a Miami-area police officer, is trying to clear her son's credit report and figure out how this woman got his Social Security number in the first place.

"I'm doing everything legally I'm allowed to do as a parent," she said, adding that she's also filed a police report in Coconut Creek, Fla., where the family lives.

LeGette said at first the family thought there had been a typographical error that had caused Jake's credit report to look so active. But then when they got the list of items the woman had applied for, they realized their middle child was a victim of identity theft.

The mystery woman's purchases and applications have all been made in Florida, though from a different part of the state than where the LeGettes live.

And because they don't yet have full access from the credit agencies, they don't know whether she has defaulted on any of her accounts.

"But when you buy nine vehicles over a four-year period of time, you have to think there's something really involved, fraudulently," LeGette said.

LeGette said her training in law enforcement hasn't been much help in protecting or restoring her child's identity.

"I feel like there's some major flaw in the system" for protecting children's identities, she said, adding that she plans to freeze Jake's Social Security number once this mess has been fixed.

Though her eldest child is older than 18, LeGette said she plans to do a thorough check of her youngest child's information just to be safe.

But the question remains: How was someone able to steal Jake's identity?

"When this happens to your child it's really hitting where it hurts you," she said.

When a Child Becomes a Victim of Identity Theft

Betsy Broder, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission's division of privacy and identity, said it is generally harder to steal a child's identity than an adult's because the child hasn't applied for jobs or taken out credit cards or mortgages.

But on the flip side, because a child's identity is so inactive, creditwise, thieves can often get away with it for years until the child is old enough to open a bank account or apply for a student loan.

"Everyone's an easy target," Broder said. "No one's immune from this."

The FTC received 300,000 identity theft complaints last year and of those, 7 percent involved people age 19 and younger, Broder said. That's down slightly from 8 percent in both 2007 and 2006.

"No one really knows how prevalent it is … because childhood identity theft is usually not detected until they take those first steps into adulthood," she said.

LeGette said they believe Jake's identity was stolen when he was around 6 or 7 years old. Though she stores his card in a safe place and couldn't recall using the number for anything, it may have been lifted either from his school registration or medical records.

"She may have been careful with it," Broder said, "but someone else may not have been as careful as she."

Child identity theft victims can be more challenging than adults, she said, because the thief has had years to establish an identity while the child may not have used the number at all.

"It's so devastating," she said.

The good news is that Jake should be able to recover his identity, Broder said.

"It'll take a concerted effort by his parents to untangle it," she said.

That's a fight LeGette said she's prepared for.

"It makes me mad," she said. "It's just a frustrating experience you have to go through to clear it up."

How to Protect Your Child's Identity

Broder said that while it's usually not necessary to get regular credit reports for a child the way an adult should, there are some things parents should watch out for.

Parents should investigate if a credit card application comes in the mail addressed to their children, Broder said, and be suspicious of any calls to their children from debt collectors.

In addition to keeping a close watch on who gets your child's Social Security number, parents should also never give out their children's information over the phone and they should teach their children safe computer practices, such as not giving out or posting their dates of birth.

In the end, Jake was able to open his savings account. And though Jake wasn't sure what was happening at first, LeGette said he understands that someone took his information and did something they weren't supposed to.

"I'm only 11 years old," Jake told ABC affiliate WPLG, "and I have bad credit.".