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WTOL 11 Investigates: Children 35 times more likely to have identities stolen than adults

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) -

More than ever, your children are the target of scam artists. We are constantly on the lookout for identity theft, but your kids are 35 times more likely to fall victim to identity theft than an adult.

Axton Betz-Hamilton was 19 when she first requested a copy of her credit report. She expected a high score, but got exactly the opposite.

"My credit report was 10 pages long full of fraudulent credit card entries and associated collection agency entries," Betz-Hamilton said.

She learned her identity had been stolen years earlier, when she was just 11. The biggest shock was who stole it - her own mother.

"Not only did she steal my identity, she stole my father's identity as well as my grandfather's identity," Betz-Hamilton recalled. "She ruined her own credit and then moved on to ours."

Betz-Hamilton discovered it after her mother had died.

Michael Dansack is a Sylvania attorney who has represented victims just like Betz-Hamilton. He says unfortunately her case is not an isolated one.

"Generally it's someone who knows the minor," Dansack explains. "Often it can be a relative or a parent, a friend, a neighbor."

These unlikely predators use a child's name and social security number to open accounts, and since most companies do not cross reference the age, the fraud goes undetected.

"Many times it goes unnoticed until they're getting ready to go off to college or to rent there first apartment or obtain their first credit card," Dansack said.

A study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab found 1 in 10 children had someone else using their social security number. One of the challenges here is it's hard to be proactive. It's really more about being reactive. Be aware, and watch for red flags.

"I think the warning signs are if you start getting bills and statements for services you didn't receive or products you didn't purchase," Dansack said. "If you're getting a denial for some kind of government benefit. Generally you're going to get some kind of notice from someone that just kind of seems odd. That you shouldn't be getting. That would be the trigger to take a look and contacting the credit reporting bureaus."

Be sure to shred anything you don't need, including medical records. Be careful who you share personal information with. That includes public schools, little league, summer camp and the like. It's also a good idea to run a check when your child reaches 16 or 17.

"That may be the time to kind of look, or pull a credit report to see what it says," Dansack suggests. "It would give adequate time to remedy or correct some of the problems before you really are in a position where you need to do certain things when they become an adult."

The Federal Trade Commission has a guide for how to recover from identity theft, but when a family member is the culprit, there are extra challenges.

"That fundamental aspect of this woman is my mother, she's there to take care of me, that's been shattered," Betz-Hamilton said.

Her credit score is finally in order, and she has spent much of her career studying identity theft and is now an assistant professor of consumer studies at Eastern Illinois University.

Read the first steps you should take to repair your credit if you discover you've been the victim of identity theft here.

Get Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's advice on dealing with identity theft here.

Read the Social Security Administration's advice for dealing with someone using your Social Security Number here.

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