Michelle and David Becerra have spent the past 5 months adjusting to life with their infant son, Matthew.
“He’s basically the greatest thing that’s happened to us,” said Michelle. “I’ve learned so much since he was born.”
And it was through Matthew that Michelle and David learned something they had never heard of before.
“My first thought was who could do this?” said David.
David says in March he received an unexpected call from his accountant, saying someone had already used Matthew’s social security number to claim him as a dependent on their tax return.
“It really made me sick to my stomach,” Michelle said.
“Who would be going out of their way to just get an extra $2,000 on their taxes by stealing a baby’s social?” questioned David.
But according to Jennifer Kuehl, a special agent working IRS criminal investigations in South Florida, this is a crime they see often and the fraudulent tax return is usually just the beginning.
“We feel terrible for the victims because it is a mess,” Kuehl said. “They could try to open up a loan … Did they try and open a bank account? We don’t know.”
So far, David and Michelle say their son’s social has not been used for those purposes. But their story isn’t unique. According to a 2011 Carnegie Mellon study, a child’s risk of their social security number being used is 51 times higher than an adult.
In 2017, over a million children were affected by identity fraud resulting in families paying over $540 million out of pocket, according to a new report produced by Javelin Strategy & Research for Identity Guard.
That’s why taking steps to protect your child is key.
“You don’t want to give your personal information, your financial information to anyone who doesn’t need it,” said Kuehl.
This includes doctors’ offices. The Becerras say they never gave Matthew’s social security number to anyone, so they’re puzzled by how this happened.
“I’m super careful not to share my things and then we’re super careful with him,” David said. “We just got it in the mail and put it away.”
The couple had to file an identity theft affidavit with their tax returns this year and know it’ll be months before the mess with the IRS is cleared up. They’ve also reached out to the three credit bureaus and are working to freeze Matthew’s credit.
“It’s very stressful because it’s just another headache to go through for no reason,” Michelle said. “I feel like he didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
The family has also applied for a special code called an IP PIN from the IRS, which acts as another layer of security. They will be using it next year when they file their taxes.
Florida is one of a handful of states where you can apply for an IP PIN code – even if you haven’t been a victim of identity theft.
For information on how to get an IP PIN, click here.
If your child’s identity has been stolen, there are some steps you should take that will help you monitor and clear up their credit. You should start by filing an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC also has an entire section dedicated to child identity theft and what you need to know