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Catch me if you can

by Neal O'Farrell on August 12th, 2010

Security experts recently uncovered a new and very sinister twist on identity theft – businesses actively selling the Social Security numbers of children to buyers with less-than-stellar credit, who dump the stolen identities as soon as they’re no longer of use, then purchase more.

Sounds crazy, but it does seem to be increasing in popularly, and a number of businesses have sprung up recently operating a black market in what they artfully describe as credit privacy numbers, or cpn’s.

They’re being packaged and sold as a way for consumers who have seen their credit scores hurt in the recent recession bump up those scores by starting over with a new and clean score. But they’re much more likely to be used by fraudsters who run up massive debts using the compromised identity, then move on to the next identity as soon as the previous one has been red flagged.

It sounds like a very straightforward case of fraud or identity theft but even authorities admit that they’re having a hard time proving this is a crime because the businesses involved are not offering Social Security numbers for sale. At least not technically.

The thieves use data collection and web crawling software to harvest the Social Security numbers of kids from web sites across the world. Seems hard to imagine but Social Security numbers can still be easily found on many web sites, often as a result of either mistakes or just lax security by businesses and government agencies entrusted with those numbers.

Once the numbers are found they’re then verified as “clean” – meaning they don’t yet have credit reports connected to them – and sometimes packaged with other personal information before being sold on the black market, on sites like Craigslist, or even in the open on corporate web sites.

And why kids’ Social Security numbers? These numbers are considered “clean” or “golden” because they’re unused and therefore provide the new user with a clean credit slate to start over, and because the rightful owners of these numbers (the kids) don’t check their credit reports and won’t find out until years later.

Just how easy is it to get your own CPN? It took me less than sixty seconds of surfing to find a web site offering to sell me a “CPN Package” that included a new Social Security number, a kit explaining how to use it to “restore my credit,” and a new credit card with a $500 limit – all for just $300.

Lessons learned:

• Check with the credit bureaus to make sure they don’t have any kind of credit file connected to your kids’ Social Security numbers.

• Don’t forget to check your own credit reports. If you have a good history and a clean report, thieves will buy that too.

New ID theft targets kids’ Social Security numbers

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