FTC: Complaints rise about kids as victims of identity theft

Thursday, January 26th 2006, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Identity thieves are increasingly targeting children.

Identity theft complaints involving youngsters under 18 have nearly doubled since 2003, up from 6,512 to more than 11,600 last year, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.

While they make up a small percentage _ about 5 percent _ of the total ID theft complaints, the FTC's Jay Miller says young people are attractive to cons because they may not be as savvy about safeguarding personal information and could easily fall prey while surfing the Internet.

``Identity thieves don't see age as a hurdle,'' said Miller, who works with law enforcement to combat identity theft. ``All they want is as much information about a person as they can get regardless of age. And believe me, they will find a way to use it.''

And they have, says Sue Houk of the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center.

Houk's friend was stunned to learn that someone had fraudulently opened a bank account in her 12-year-old daughter's name. The con artist then opened about a half dozen credit card accounts, declared bankruptcy, had it written off and left the youngster with a mess of legal hassles.

``It's an easy thing to do. Once they get a valid Social Security number, they just go to town,'' said Houk, acting chief executive of the center, which is a private organization that distributes information about identity theft.

The most victimized age group for identity theft was the 18-to-29 category. The FTC said that category registered 29 percent of the complaints, or more than 70,200.

The agency's annual report on consumer fraud complaints had identity theft again topping the list for the sixth consecutive year. The number of complaints filed with the FTC ticked up from 246,847 in 2004 to more than 255,500 last year.

The most common form of identity theft reported was credit card fraud, which accounted for 26 percent of the complaints, the study said. It was followed by phone or utilities fraud at 18 percent, bank fraud at 17 percent and employment fraud at 12 percent.

Overall, the commission received more than 685,000 fraud-related complaints in 2005, up from 653,000 the previous year.

After identity theft, the second biggest category of complaints was Internet auction fraud, followed by foreign money offers, shop-at-home or catalog sales, and sweepstakes offers.

Other common consumer concerns included complaints about work-at-home offers, advance-fee loans and credit protection or repair solicitations.