Perpetrators might be strangers who work at a health clinic, insurance company or school, any place that requires access to a child's personal information. Illegal aliens may purchase a child's information from traffickers who target youngsters particularly because it will take years before the crime is noticed.
Sadly, though, children are often victimized by people they know well, such as family and close friends with bad credit or suspended licenses who may see a new beginning for themselves in the juvenile's pristine record.
"It's often a family member or someone who knows the child," said Jim Vaules, fraud consultant for LexisNexis Risk Management and a former FBI special agent. "Most newborns are getting Social Security numbers. The person will assume the ID of the youngster for purposes of getting a clean record."
Young adults are particularly at risk, experts say, because more people have access to their information. Amy Gergely, now a spokeswoman for Intersections Inc., a Chantilly, Va.-based company that provides consumers with credit monitoring and protection services, was herself a victim, just before her 18th birthday.
"It was after I applied for my first credit card to take to college. As far as I can tell, it was a former work colleague from my summer job who stole my employment information and got credit in my name," Gergely said.
"Minors nearing college age and beginning to establish a credit record are at far more risk of identity theft, in our opinion, than 3-year-olds, due to their new, sparkling clean credit records and lack of credit education," she said.
In congressional testimony last month, a representative of the Identity Theft Resource Center told lawmakers that to protect children the Social Security Administration should create a "minors" database by cross-listing identification numbers and birth dates.
Any credit application made using the Social Security number of a child then would be flagged for investigation. Software, similar in nature to such a government list, is being developed to help lenders weed out fraud, Gergely said.
"As these problems get more widespread and consumers speak out for improvements, these types of technology will be invested in by lenders," Gergely said.
The Identity Theft Resource Center also advocates for stiffer and universal penalties for the crime, which currently carries punishments that vary by state.
Credit education can also help consumers protect themselves, and their children, from identity theft, experts say.
Surveys show that young adults, at least, have little understanding of the credit process. More than 60 percent of young adults, ages 18 to 24, say their knowledge of credit reports is fair or poor, according to a July report by the Consumer Federation of America.
While many kids find out they were victimized when they reach their late teens, parents of younger children can also look for, and help prevent, early problems.
Children should not receive credit card applications or telemarketing calls, for example, because such solicitors' lists usually come from "soft pulls" of existing credit records. Also, parents should be wary of anyone close to the child who suddenly comes into a cash windfall.