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"A child is 51 times more likely to be a victim of [identity theft] than an adult is," identity theft expert John Sileo said. "It is the fasting-growing segment of the crime."

Sileo says thieves will target children because they can create pristine credit records as parents don't feel the need to check their child's credit.

"There's a lack of oversight," Sileo said. "None of us are paying attention."

A 2012 study of 27,000 children found 10 percent of them had Social Security Numbers tied to mortgages, loans, credit cards and vehicle registrations. The study was done by an identity-theft company called AllClearID. Children under five years of age are the most-targeted group, according to the study.

"To think that happens with minors just floored me," John Polansky of Loveland said.

Polansky recently found out that several people have been using his daughter's Social Security Number for the past 10 years.

"It made me very upset for her," he said.

Polansky discovered the theft when the Colorado Department of Tax and Revenue sent his 16-year-old daughter a letter demanding payment on taxes for a $33,000 income.

"They looked it up on their records and said there were three different people using her Social Security Number to work illegally," Polansky said.

Currently, the IRS and the Colorado Department of Tax and Revenue don't have a system in place that alerts parents if a child's identity is being used, even though the information may be in agency databases.

"It's very frustrating that your child at the age of 16 - basically, since the age of six - has had her identity stolen, and no one has notified us," Polansky said.

Polansky was given the names Sergio Blandon and Rodrigo Lopez as the people who have been using his daughter's identity.

9Wants to Know was able to check public records and found three other names tied to his daughter's Social Security Number. A visit to their last-known addresses in Castle Rock, Arvada and Lakewood didn't turn up anyone.

How it happens

Sileo told 9Wants to Know that family members are often the most-common culprits of child-identity theft. The crime is often known as "friendly fraud."

"It's where a parent or a relative of the child - maybe they're struggling financially - use the child's identity to gain credit or gain a service," Sileo said.

Identity thieves can also access a child's Social Security Number through records in schools, doctors' offices and hospitals.

Certain computer programs, such as children's games, can also install malware that's designed to fish for private information on hard drives.

How to prevent child ID theft

Some experts recommend creating a credit profile for your children at an early age and then placing a credit freeze on the profile.

Identity theft-prevention companies can offer credit monitoring for children, but such monitoring may also come at a monthly service charge.

Recently, the State of Maryland signed into law a measure that requires credit bureaus to freeze a child's credit, even if a credit profile doesn't exist.

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends to parents to challenge agencies and businesses that request Social Security Numbers and to ask how records are handled.

From the FTC website:

- Keep all documents that show a child's personal information safely locked up. What is personal information? At a minimum, it includes a child's date of birth, Social Security Number, and birth certificate. Don't carry your child's Social Security card with you.
- Share your child's Social Security number only when you know and trust the other party. If someone asks for your child's Social Security Number, ask why they want it, how they'll safeguard it, how long they'll keep it, and how they'll dispose of it. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't share the number. Ask to use another identifier.
- Before you share personal information on the internet, make sure you have a secure connection. A secure website has a lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with "https."
- Use a computer with updated antivirus and firewall protection. Don't send personal or financial information - your child's or your own, for that matter - through an unsecured wireless connection in a public place.

How to clean your child's credit

Cleaning false information on credit reports is often an uphill battle that takes time and money.

"The credit bureaus won't talk to you. You have to send everything in writing," Polansky said.
Polansky has already spent hours trying to place freezes on his daughter's accounts.

"My daughter is going to be going off to college soon. They told me it could affect her ability to get student loans if it has gone on to her credit," Polansky said.

The FTC recommends creating fraud alerts with the three major credit-reporting bureaus immediately once you find out ID theft has occurred.

The FTC has published a guide showing the steps you should take to report the fraud, including contact numbers: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.pdf.

Visit the FTC's identity theft website here for more information: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.

Visit Sileo.com to learn more about child identity theft: http://www.sileo.com/child-identity-theft-part-i/.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him at
jeremy.jojola@9news.com