Identity Theft of children by relatives

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In Sarah's case, police collected hundreds of pieces of evidence including credit cards, unpaid bills and loan applications. Prosecutors filed charges and the thief was sent to jail for six months.

The culprit was Sarah's own mother, Cheryl.

"I did it because I had to, as a means of necessity," said Cheryl. "I feel bad I did it, and I shouldn't have done it. At the time, I didn't really think it was wrong in the sense I was hurting my child."

While Cheryl served half a year in a Dallas jail, her daughter Sarah was sent to live with a relative. They are reunited now, but the young girl's credit is still blemished.

"I hope it sends a message to other parents," said Cheryl. "Don't do that, it's not worth it. Find other means."

Sarah's case may seem unusual because of her mother's involvement, but it's not.  An advocacy group called the Identity Theft Resource Center identifies relatives as being involved in more than half of the child identity theft cases reported in the United States last year. 

"I don't understand how a parent can do this to a child," said Linda Foley, the center's executive director. "This is an infant you hold in your arms when they are born and say I will protect you with my life. To go and sacrifice that life for their selfish needs… it's unexplainable to me."

Children ideal target for Identity Theft

The identity thief is not always someone who knows the child. In Oklahoma City, John has no idea who stole his children's Social Security numbers. He was alerted to the problem when he filed his taxes early this year... He was anticipating a large refund.

The Internal Revenue Service notified him that he could not claim his four-year-old daughter and five-year-old son as dependents because another tax filer had already done so.

"I feel scared," said John. "Somebody out there knows about my kids, their numbers and obviously their birthdates; anything their Social Security number can bring up."

The Oklahoma City family is expecting another child soon and needs the refund money.  They're still waiting, as John tries to sort out the confusion with the I.R.S.  In addition, he is changing his other children's Social Security numbers, which is a time-consuming process.

Linda Foley suspects that identity theft of children is increasing so rapidly precisely because kids are such good targets. "They usually have a spotless record and because they aren't using their credit, the crime can go undetected for years," explained Foley.

A Fort Worth teenager Peta had her credit stolen by her godmother, the woman she was named after.  Peta didn't discover what happened until eight years later, when she tried to buy a car and the salesmen told her she had a 14-page long negative credit report. Her godmother said she'd make amends with the reporting agencies, but Peta says her credit is still a mess.

"I never thought anyone in my family could do this to anyone, much less to me," said Peta, who is now 20. "It has changed everything for me."

Child identity theft is a crime that is specific to the USA. Other countries such as Australia, United Kingdom & Canada do not experience this crime to the same degree.

Checking your child's credit records is more difficult than your own. In most cases you have to send a letter via the mail to ask for the information. Thus many people will never get round to checking or monitoring their children's credit information.

Protect your child's personal safety from online criminals

Protecting your children's personal safety is the most important duty of any parent. Children as young as 10 years can become targets of cyber bullying, child abduction, pornographers and paedophiles… the most repugnant criminals ever!

Do you know that these crimes against children can be committed online? Did you know that paedophiles use social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook and chat sites, to groom children for sexual assault?

An Australian police report has just exposed the growing trend of blackmailing children online. This disturbing trend has been detected in all Australian cities and states since September 2008. Australian Police have run direct campaigns in schools and the media to educate children and youths about detecting online predators. They claim that their campaigns are successful. However, recently their success had been countered by offenders resorting to more aggressive tactics.

In some cases, predators hacked into children's personal profiles on MySpace and FaceBook. They gathered their list of victims' friends and then threatened to reveal some information. The victims had to either send photos of them or agree to meet the predators in person.

Teenager targeted online by cyber bully for 4 years

A GIRL tormented by a Facebook bully told how the abuse affected her "every waking moment".

Victim Emily Moore, 18, was hounded for four years by Keeley Houghton - who threatened to kill her.

Houghton became the first person in Britain to be jailed for Internet bullying, Emily said: "I am so relieved. My blood used to run cold reading her comments.

"Her abuse consumed my every waking moment for the past four years. I got so scared I couldn't even turn on my computer."

Houghton, also 18, was locked up for three months last Friday after pleading guilty to harassment.

A district judge told her bullying was cowardly and that the "evil, odious" effects of it stayed with victims for life. Emily was first targeted at 14 by being called a "slag" for wearing eyeliner to school. Later she was bombarded with taunts on Bebo and then on Facebook.

She was physically assaulted, having her head banged against a wall and her hair yanked out. The hate campaign grew so intense, a police riot squad was even called out. Click here to read Emily's story

In another example, a 15-year-old Sydney girl was blackmailed into posting personal images to a 16-year-old boy overseas. The boy was threatening to contact her online list of friends and create false stories about her sister. The blackmailing went for weeks before police were called.

An Australian police agent from Sydney's Online Child Sex Exploitation Team posed as the girl online. The youth was trapped and will be charged in his country.

In another instance, predators were touring through popular virtual worlds stealing children's earned virtual money. They threaten to keep it unless they send images of themselves or met with the predators.

AFP High Tech Crime Operations acting national manager, Commander Neil Gaughan, said these online threats to children are real.

"An innocent online encounter can lead to serious crime, including sexual offences and types of extortion," Commander Gaughan said. "It can also lead to blackmailing which can include threats to distribute images to school friends or stealing virtual money in children's games to take advantage of a victim."

He said police had a presence in the virtual world. He called on parents to become vigilant and report any suspicions they have that their child was being groomed.

As a parent, you must understand how chat rooms and social networking sites work. You must teach your children how to behave online. It is most important that you educate your children about the dangers of chatting online. This is particularly so, when you do not know the person they are chatting with, or who is reading your child's messages!

You should take precautions when your child has a cell phone or text messaging service. Does your child understand that listing their real name, address, telephone number or school is dangerous?

Some online forums or chat rooms are SUPPOSED to be only for children. Do your children realize that there are adults on these sites who pretend to be children? Do you know that their purpose is to take advantage of children?

I don't want to frighten you or your children! Think about it… It would be far more terrifying if you found out that your children had been in contact with a paedophile. Worse still, they did not know how to tell you!

Children need rules

You must give your children rules that they must follow when they are on the Internet. Here are some things that you may want to discuss with your children:

NEVER give out their name, address, telephone number, or picture;

NEVER agree to meet someone they met online without your approval;

REMEMBER you are speaking in a public area and other people may read what you write;

REFUSE to enter a private chat room. Chat rooms are closed to the public and an adult trying to seduce them may lure your child in;

Encourage them to TELL you what goes on. Just as you would monitor who they spend time with after school or what TV programs they watch - you want them to feel comfortable telling you about their online friends;

LIMIT the amount of time they spend online. While talking with friends about sports, fashion or other interests may be fun it is not wholly productive for children to spend hours online chatting. It is also more likely that they will investigate sites or forums that are unsuitable for children. Curiosity may lure them in over their heads;

Have the computer in a PUBLIC area of the home. This will protect your children more than any software program. Check on them occasionally just to see what they are doing;

INFORM them about SPAM and other e-mail that looks suspicious. If they are not sure tell them to ask you before opening it;

Tell them never to engage in FLAMING. Flaming is an attack on another person who is posting. It is both emotional and uncontrolled - often due to the power of anonymity that exists online. Other children from school have bullied children or elsewhere (called cyber bulling) and it can be devastating. Remind your child to show manners to others and be careful how they respond;

Check the HISTORY of their online surfing if you are concerned. It is good to let your child know that you will occasionally check this out as a protection for them; and

Always use a POP-UP BLOCKER. Sometimes windows open up that advertise pornography or other disturbing images. Make sure you use a pop-up blocking program to protect yourself and your family from this unwelcome exposure. Pop-up blockers can be found in the settings of your web browser. In both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox popup blockers are located in the tools menu.

You can further secure your child's online experience by tips from WiredKids.org. You can get safe chat supervision for children and teens at WiredKidz.org and WiredTeens.org.

These areas are supervised and they teach children about the safe use of the Internet and texting. They also provide information on cyber bullying, cyber stalking, flaming and more. If your child has become a victim, you can use their resources to find all the right information and support you need to fight back.

We can combat all online crimes. We can make ourselves smaller targets by always showing respect for our personal information. Parents, you must understand how social networking sites operate.

Facebook and MySpace are Hacker Playgrounds

Online social networking websites like MySpace and FaceBook are playgrounds for hackers. They can easily take advantage of children's trust... And experts constantly remind us of this fact!

Children often give out too much information. They place intimate details of their lives on profile pages. They also install mini-applications, which can be made by hackers who have evil intentions. Developers have created "widgets" that can be added to the user's profile page. FaceBook has used this online tactic with great success!

Unfortunately, malicious code is easily hidden in these applications! Hackers can then steal private information from children without them even knowing. Worse, paedophiles often use hidden code to find and groom children!

You should teach your children to:

Never to put any private information in public profiles. This includes names, birth dates, credit card numbers and real addresses.

They should only give out private information to people they actually know and trust, personally.

They should always use a pseudonym for their name… not their real name! Remember that "online friends" are not the same as "real live friends"!

Case Study: Jenny was sexually assaulted by a MySpace predator

Actual cases of sexual assault has happened, many of them in the United States. Recently, the website MySpace was sued by a teenager who we will call Jenny.

She was sexually assaulted by an older teenager called Sam, whom she had met on the MySpace site. Sam had created a fake profile in MySpace, complete with fake pictures and data. Through this MySpace profile, Jenny met Sam. Eventually he obtained her phone number, met her personally and sexually assaulted her. Sam was arrested and convicted.

Jenny also sued MySpace for failing in their duty of care. Incidentally, she lost the case. Unfortunately for Jenny she had lied about her age. She claimed that she was 18 when she was just 13 years of age. MySpace currently allows people over 13 years to sign up. However, when this incident happened, the minimum age was 14 years. Clearly, these actions show that the young girl didn't exercise caution and exposed herself to danger by lying about her age and meeting a male member who was much older than her.

This case proves that the danger on the Internet is ever present. No-one should deter children and adults from using the Internet freely. However, it's very important that everyone exercises caution when they do so. Jenny failed to do this.

There have been other legal cases where perpetrators stole passwords and other valuable account information from MySpace users. They sent them code that the children could use to customize their site. A key logger was hidden in the code and copied all the children's keystrokes. This led to the children's true identity being stolen.

Some children unknowingly give out too much information in their profiles. Criminals use this to build profiles about their location, phone numbers and other private information. Children don't know that giving out too much information can have adverse affects on them and their family.

The case of Jenny illustrates the fact that her parents didn't exercise much caution as well. She was able to pretend to be someone else. The chances of this crime happening would have been small had Jenny's parents been more careful.

How can you protect your children against SPAM?

Every day your kids' e-mail address may be bombarded by unsolicited junk e-mail or spam. So it is very possible that they will open e-mail from people they don't know. Your children may not be aware that when they download spam they are also downloading Internet threats. It is very important that they know what to do to avoid attracting junk mail… and how to keep their computer free from viruses.

If they are currently receiving spam, tell them not to open and download anything from people they don't know. You should also advise them never to download e-mail attachments from people they don't know.

Remind your children that they should never reply to spam or even unsubscribe to newsletters. This will only makes things worse since they are simply saying that their e-mail address is a valid address. Tell your children not to join mailing groups. Mailing groups can be searched publicly and can easily be traced by spammers.

Teach them to ignore e-mails that offer anti-virus products; or e-mails that warn them that they are being tracked! These e-mails may be from hackers trying to sell products that are full of viruses.

You must teach your children how to protect their e-mail addresses. Make sure they know that it is dangerous for them to share their e-mail addresses with someone they don't personally know. Spammers also use programs like crawlers, bots and spiders to collect e-mail addresses from the web and add them to their spamming list.

Tell them never to use their primary e-mail address through forums or use it to gain access websites like MySpace or FaceBook. Instead, they should create a dummy e-mail or secondary e-mail address that can be used for these purposes.

Verbal Abuse Online

Whether your children are in chat rooms, forums and clubs there are enough vicious people that might heap verbal abuse on your children. They may swear at them or make sexual advances to them. They may even flame your children about their religious or ethnic backgrounds.

You should teach your children that they do NOT have to put up with this online abuse. They should know how to get recordings or screenshots of these instances and bring them to you. You can then contact the moderator of the forum in question and have the offenders banned for the site.

If the abuse is excessive and the site fails to stop the abuse, you can even take legal action against the site and the people involved. Online abuse is just as much a crime as slander and abuse is in the real world. The Internet's advantage in such cases is that screenshots and official records from the sites can be used as hard evidence. In real-life verbal abuse cases evidence has to be gleaned from reliable witnesses.

Child Security and Phishing

Phishing has been explained fully in chapter four. Victor became a victim of phishing when Peter Phisher masqueraded as a bank employee. Victor was sent an e-mail telling him that the bank had updated its online security and that he needed to type in his online banking login details immediately. He was warned that if he didn't his online bank account would be frozen.

Phishing does not just happen to adults… they attack children as well! They attempt to gather sensitive information about your children through such means as an online survey. If your child responds, they insert harmful programs into your computer e.g. viruses, worms, key loggers, etc.

More often than not children become the biggest security target. Children are targeted because of their inexperience and lack of knowledge. You must teach your children how to defend themselves from phishing.

Should You Violate Your Child's Privacy?

You as the parent have the right to safeguard your child's interests. It is certainly in your right and responsibility to protect your children from disturbing images, lewd materials and predators. It is your duty to raise your child in the best way possible. It is also your responsibility to give your child the chance to become a valued member of society.

You also have the duty of care to your children and should monitor their computer activities. This is especially true if your child has their own computer and unlimited access to the Internet.

You will most certainly get into quarrels with your child about this … so be persuasive, not defensive or combative! You must explain briefly how your intrusion is for their good! The trouble is that you don't have eyes in the back of your head… And you can't possibly physically monitor your child's activities 24/7!

How can you monitor your child's computer activities?

The best way to monitor your kids is to sit with them while they use the Internet. You will know the sites they visit and the things they do online.

You should keep the Internet-connected computer in an open area of your home, so that you can easily see what they are doing online. Never have an Internet-connected computer inside their bedroom. You can't monitor them if they go online in the middle of the night!

However, you can't sit with them or guard their every move online. Setting up surveillance cameras is way too intrusive and ineffective! There are ways you can prevent your kids from accessing unsuitable websites. You need to install the right tools to ensure that your kids' Internet experience is both enjoyable and safe.

For example, you can download web browsers that are suitable for children. These specially-made browsers have pre-approved websites that children can access. They also filter websites, which contain inappropriate information for your children. Other cool features of these browsers are that they are fun to use. They are colorful, easy to use… And they create a child-friendly environment.

An easy way to monitor your child's online activities is to check your child's history folder. You can access this folder through the Internet browser tools. The history folder shows you the files and sites your child has accessed; and when they were accessed.

If your child is computer savvy, they may erase the contents of the history folder. You should check the Internet options setting to see the computer has been set to store items in the history folder. If the computer has been set to store items but the history folder is always empty, then you will have to confront your child. A child, who is secretly accessing various pornographic sites, may be erasing the history folder contents.

You may also need to check your child's e-mail, especially their deleted items. These e-mails can contain items that are being hidden from their parents' reach. You should also check any recently downloaded or saved files and see the nature of these files. As the computer administrator, you will have control over children's passwords.

How can you block bad sites?

Here are the 2 popular and easy ways that you can block bad sites:

Use effective web browsers. Web browsers have the capacity to block unwanted popup, banners and advertisements. Their effectiveness depends on the settings you've made. For example, the Microsoft Internet Explorer has settings where you can block violence, sex, nudity and explicit language. The Mozilla Firefox web browser has settings to block bad sites or pop-ups off your computer. These settings can be found in the Tools Menu  Internet options.

Use site-blocking software or third-party website-blocking software. There are several site-blocking software solutions available online. Some are downloadable for free and some come with a price. This software works by blocking the list of websites you've entered, just like Windows' "Hosts" file or by blocking addresses that contain objectionable words and images. You can block websites using Symantec Norton's Internet Security.

The best protection is to install Internet filtering software. There are many products on the market such as:

Cyber Snoop,

Child Lock,

AOL Parental Controls,

Safe Online,

Filter Park,

McAfee Internet Security Suite,

Net Mop, and

Norton's Internet Security Parental Controls.

Most of these products can be purchased from your local computer store for $100 or less… And it is the BEST purchase you can make!

What's Next?

In my story in chapter 1, there were three instances where money was fraudulently taken out of my accounts. However, in each case the question of liability and restitution were different.

In the first instance, my flat mate's son stole $300 out of my check account. The bank was not held responsible for allowing Joshua to fraudulently steal the money from my account. Joshua was the perpetrator who was ordered by the court to repay the funds. He was underage and could not personally repay the stolen funds. His father took responsibility to repay the stolen money.

In the second instance, my identity was stolen and a loan was taken out in my name without my knowledge or consent. However, I did not discover the theft until two years later. The finance company was not responsible for the theft as it had provided the loan in good faith… and I could not prove who the perpetrator was. In this case I made the business decision to repay the debt and restore my credit rating.

In the third instance, my identity was stolen and money was fraudulently taken from my credit card. In this case, the bank took responsibility for the theft, refunded my losses and recovered the funds from the merchant. The bank also reported the theft to the police who arrested the perpetrator or the crime.

Chapter 12 will explain who is held responsible for identity theft… you will be shocked at what you find out…

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