Kids, Infants Fall Victim to Identity Theft

Cooper Hayes has credit trouble. If he's not worried, that's because he's just 3 years old.

Cooper's very first piece of mail ever was a letter from a county prosecutor telling him his identity had been stolen.

"No one's going to check their child's credit history," said his father, Jon Hayes. "We're always checking our own to make sure that everything is fine for us. But no one's gonna check your child's credit history to make sure it's safe and OK."

Ideal Victim

When 11-month-old Andrew Brooke was only 3 weeks old, someone used his identity to buy prescription drugs from a clinic. His parents ended up getting the bill.

"If you're an infant, you're the ideal victim," said Jonathan Brooke, Andrew's father.

That's because years can pass before the crime is discovered.

"Most of the time, what happens is a child finds out in the worst way," said Jay Foley of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a national non-profit organization. "They're applying for a student loan, they're getting ready to go to college and they can't because their information has been already tainted with bad credit."

While victims younger than 18 make up only 4 percent of reported identity theft cases, the numbers are growing. And because most young victims don't know they've been hit yet, the true numbers are believed to be higher.

Education

The problem has become so widespread that some schools are now taking up the topic, teaching kids how to protect their personal information, even how to check their credit history.

In a class where each student goes online in search of a free credit check, Jeremy Durkee, 18, just found out his report is clean.

"That means my ID is not stolen, thankfully," the high-school senior said.

With so much personal information available online and in the mail, neither the Hayes nor Brooke families is exactly sure how their children's identities were stolen. But each feels lucky the credit problems were discovered early.

"We check it every three to four months now," Jonathan Brooke says. "We've got fraud alerts on our accounts. We try to just monitor everything very carefully."

ABC News' Neal Karlinsky originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on March 19, 2005.

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