We aren't talking about family members swiping kid's personal info, although that does happen, we're talking about criminals buying and selling your child's social security number. Think you aren't at risk? Our Investigation Unit reveals why you could be and how this can create a major financial catastrophe.
The first time Axton Betz applied for an apartment, rental and utility companies checked her credit, and she got some shocking news.
This college student, who had never even taken out a loan or credit card, was thousands of dollars in debt.
She requested her first credit report and, stunned, found page after page of unpaid accounts.
"I was devastated," said child ID theft victim Axton Betz.
Axton says the thief who stole her social security number started running up bills when she was just a kid.
With her credit ruined she had to pay a deposit just to get the lights turned on.
The lowest car loan rate she could get was 18% and the lowest credit card interest rate she could get was 29%.
Betz said, "It's been life changing and life defining."
Axton is far from alone, recent studies report anywhere from 140,000 to 400,000 children a year are ID theft victims.
Cyber watchdog All Clear ID was stunned to find.
"The kids were being targeted at a rate of 51 times the adults," said Bo Holland of All Clear ID.
High tech thieves take children's pristine social security numbers which have never appeared in the credit reporting system, add a fake name, then open a cell phone or utility account and, a new credit history is established and they use it to borrow more money.
The theft usually isn't caught until the child becomes a young adult.
Tom Oscherwitz of ID Analytics said, "The first day they go into the credit market when they're 18 they could be in for a very ugly surprise."
The new and exploding part of the problem is these numbers are sold online.
Look at this actual black market website offering stolen social security numbers.
All Clear ID works with police on investigations and has special access to these underground criminal network sites where kid's social security numbers are offered sadly, for about one dollar and fifty cents to fifteen dollars.
"There are hundreds of these sites unfortunately," said Holland.
And how thieves get the numbers may stun parents.
Experts say mostly from viruses programmed to find financial documents on your computer like tax returns, medical records.
Some are also from data breaches and theft of school or hospital records.
Holland said, "Parents should be alarmed this is a very significant problem"
Experts say limit the places you provide your child's social security number.
If an agency requests it, ask why it's needed and what precautions are taken to keep it private.
Make sure your computer's virus protection is up to date and you can monitor your child's number.
"The longer the fraud goes uncovered the harder it is to clear up the mess," said Oscherwitz.
Axton is still cleaning up the mess.
Letters from creditors still haunt her.
She wishes the crime was caught earlier because not only did the thief steal her social security number, the thief stole her early adult years and turned them into a financial disaster.
"I'm always wondering when is the next collection letter going to arrive when is the next court summons going to arrive?" said Betz.
For more information on how to get a free credit report for your child and how old they need to be