Investigators say it's an emerging crime that's almost never reported.
In fact, the only way two Memphis parents were caught and prosecuted for stealing their children's Social Security numbers was a credit bureau alert. The numbers on the new loans suddenly didn't match the ones tied to the parents' addresses and other bank accounts.
The alert also revealed the numbers were only issued 15 to 20 years ago -- a teenage boy and a college-age daughter.
31-year-old Janell A. Cage, formerly of Orange Mound, is serving 54 months in federal prison for stealing her daughter's Social Security number. Investigators say she used the number to secure $50,000 in a student loan and car loan.
37-year-old Aaron D. Boone, formerly of South Memphis, was sentenced to 24 months in a federal prison plus 18 months for a supervised release violation. Investigators say he stole his teenage son's Social Security number to secure more than $81,000 in two car loans and a personal loan.
Know the warning signs. Use the tips below to protect your children from someone -- maybe even in your own family -- destroying their credit before it even starts.
* Pay close attention to the parents of your children's friends. Is there evidence or history of financial distress? Ask your child if he/she witnesses fighting or strange behavior at the home. Do the parents take an unusual interest in getting personally close to your children or in getting financial information from you?
* When you arrange for your free credit report each year from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) at www.annualcreditreport.com, ask each of them to run a check on your children's Social Security numbers. Be prepared to provide each bureau your child's full name, address and date of birth, too.
* Closely monitor your mail. If you receive mail from credit agencies or credit card companies in your child's name, someone may have attempted to steal your child's credit identity. Report it immediately to each of the three credit bureaus.
* Each of the bureaus and most lenders have software programs that should immediately detect when a child's Social Security number is being used to open an account. The programs should identify what year the number was issued and what state issued it. Lenders should have that information instantly and decline the credit line.