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Child Identity Theft: What is the answer to curbing the crime?

Lavinia Masters remembers well the moment that she found out her then 13-year old son's identity had been compromised.

"My husband and I looked and each other and we thought that he shouldn't have any negative credit," the Lewisville mother said.

Masters says when her teenage son went to open a savings account, she found out that someone had stolen his social security number three years before when he was just 10 years old and had used the number to open accounts and default on bills.

"There were unpaid doctor bills, credit cards and utility bills."

Identity theft happens thousands of times each year and experts say between 3-8% of the victims are children. Most parents, officials say, won't discover the crime for years.

"We do hear of cases where the 16-year old has five mortgages and the five year old has credit cards," criminology professor, Dr. Lynne Vieraitis, said.

The University of Texas at Dallas professor is one of the few people in the country to have gotten inside the minds of identity thieves. She interviewed dozens of incarcerated criminals as part of her research for a book.

'What we really wanted to know is why they did it, how they did it and what they thought about it."

Vieraitis has also been called upon recently to testify at a congressional hearing, sponsored by US Representative, Sam Johnson. The Plano congressman is looking for legislative fixes for the issue. Vieraitis says that lessening the use of social security numbers would make a difference.

"There has to be some way to prevent companies or businesses from using the social security number as a form of identification because it was not intended to be used that way."

As for Master's son, who is now grown and in the military, she says he watches his good name very closely.

"You don't think that bad things can happen, but it can."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun