By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Your child could become a crime victim, and you might not even know it until years from now! Thousands of children are being targeted each year by a new, growing form of “high-tech” child identity theft. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan explains.

The first time Axton Betz applied for an apartment, she learned that she was thousands of dollars in debt. She says, “I was devastated.”

Axton was only a child when she says a thief stole her social security number and started running up bills. With her credit ruined as an adult, she’s now had to pay a deposit just to get the lights turned on. The lowest car loan rate she could get was 18%, and the lowest credit card interest rate she could get was 29%!

“It’s been life changing and life defining,” Axton says.

Recent studies report that anywhere from 140,000 to 400,000 children per year are ID theft victims. Bo Holland of All Clear ID says, “The kids were being targeted at a rate of 51 times the adults.”

High-tech thieves take children’s pristine social security numbers — which have never appeared in the credit reporting system – and add a fake name, then open a cell phone or utility account and, presto, a new credit history is established. Usually, the theft isn’t caught until the child becomes a young adult.

Tom Oscherwitz of ID Analytics says, “The first day they go into the credit market when they’re 18 they could be in for a very ugly surprise.”

The stolen social security numbers are often sold online on black market websites for as little as $1.50!

“There are hundreds of these sites, unfortunately,” Holland says.

So how do you protect your child? Experts say to limit the places you provide your child’s social security number. If an agency requests it, ask why it’s needed and what precautions are taken to keep it private. Also, some computer viruses are programmed to find financial documents on your computer like tax returns and medical records, so be sure you virus protection is up-to-date too.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS3

Top Content On CBSPhilly

Watch & Listen LIVE