Someone gets a hold of their social security number, opens credit accounts and racks up thousands of dollars in debt.  The child grows up and tries to open their own accounts, only to discover their credit has been destroyed.

Desert Hot Springs mother of two Windy Worthington hopes it never happens to her children.  "I am disgusted to hear about this type of crime targeting children," said Worthington.

Worthington and parents like her across the country are alarmed when they hear the stats.

Over the past three years, 57,000 cases of child identity theft have been reported to the Federal Trade Commission.  Also, a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University looked at 40,000 children, and found that more than ten percent of them had been ripped off by identity thieves.  That is a rate 50 times higher than identity theft among adults.

The Desert Hot Springs Police Department is among the valley law enforcement agencies we checked with that have not yet dealt with any cases involving child id theft.  But, Sergeant Ken Peary has no doubt its happening in his jurisdiction.

Peary says in some cases, its a crime parents commit against their own children.
"Parents in some cultures will use their child's Social Security number to obtain benefits or service like electrical services," said Peary.

One report estimates the cost of identity theft among children at about $13 billion dollars a year.  Most often the thieves are involved with organized crime or illegal immigration

There are often warning signs when a child's identity has been stolen.  A child may receive a notice from the IRS saying the child has failed to pay taxes even though they don't have a job.  Or a child might be denied government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account.  Or a parent might receive calls from representatives for collection agencies or credit card companies, asking about accounts that actually belong to someone else.

The FTC recommends a number of strategies for protecting a child's identity.

Perhaps the easiest is to lock up all the documents that show a child's personal information.  Parents and caregivers should also only share a child's personal information with third parties they know and trust.

Click here for a complete list of the recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission.