Checking to see if the child has a credit record with one of the major credit bureaus is another strategy. The only time a child would have a credit report is if someone has used his identity and opened credit using a different date of birth.
But parents should resort to this option only if they suspect the worst, Gergely said. "Suggesting all parents do this, we fear, would be counterproductive and frustrating for many of them, as well as a waste of money," she said.
If a child has been victimized, families have several resources for help, including the Federal Trade Commission, banks, credit reporting agencies and victim assistance organizations like the Identity Theft Resource Center.
In the most extreme cases of abuse, children may need to have their Social Security numbers changed. But experts say that should be avoided if possible. It's like entering the government's witness protection program — any record of one's former identity is erased.
Teens with a brand new Social Security number may run into problems when it comes to getting college loans, for example.
That's what Thibodeau's son is now facing.
About a year into his fiasco, the office of Thibodeau's congressman, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., helped her apply for a new Social Security number for her son. The application review would take weeks, and the number might not ever get changed, Thibodeau was told.
But when a local newspaper columnist featured Thibodeau's case in a story last June, mother and son started seeing results.
"The article put a fire under people's butts," Thibodeau said. "The tax money that was intercepted was returned, and his Social Security number was changed a week after the article ran."
A high school junior, the teen is now applying for college and financial aid, but has been told he needs a letter from the Social Security Administration to explain why his old ID has been deleted.
Now, Thibodeau said her son is ready to move on after a year of pain and hassles.
"It's been very emotionally difficult," she said. "My son wants absolutely nothing to do with his father."