What Can Someone Do With My Stolen Birth Certificate?

Last Updated on July 24, 2023

Baby's First Foot Print

Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr.

Miguel Angel Gonzalez died days after his birth in 1958. But he’s been claiming government benefits since 1992.

How is that possible? 

Around 1992, his twin brother secured a driver’s license and Social Security number under Miguel’s name. He successfully applied for Social Security, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits using that information.

Raul Gonzalez was finally caught in 2019 when he applied for a passport using his brother’s birth certificate. But that new birth certificate contained details of Miguel’s death. Gonzalez faces jail time and being ordered to pay back more than $150,000 to the U.S. government.

The incident demonstrates just how far someone can go with a birth certificate…even if that birth certificate has details of the person’s death written directly on it

How Does Someone Get Your Birth Certificate?

Do you know where your birth certificate is?

Hopefully, it’s locked away for safekeeping somewhere. But even if it is, someone could still access it. Here are some of the top ways someone might nab someone else’s birth certificate.

1. Physically Steals the Paperwork

Safe deposits have long been a popular way to secure important paperwork. That can include birth certificates.

But did you know safe deposit boxes aren’t federally regulated?

Basically, you’re trusting the bank to maintain strict rules regarding the items customers tuck away for safekeeping.

But even if your birth certificate is on file in your own home, that doesn’t mean it’s forever safe. You could go through a natural disaster that has your paperwork scattered to the wind. One home break-in could have all your sensitive documents in a criminal’s hands.

And what about the people who come in and out of your house over the course of a year? Service providers, friends, a sketchy relative or two…

Are you sure your birth certificate couldn’t be stolen?

There’s also the possibility you might someday accidentally discard your birth certificate. It could be intercepted by garbage collectors, at the waste management facility, or at the landfill, where it eventually settles.

But chances are, at this very second, you know where the physical document resides. That’s why it’s important to look at other ways your birth certificate can end up in the wrong hands.

burglar

Image by Steffen Salow

2. Requests It Using Fake Identification

Last year, when I applied for my REAL ID driver’s license so I could fly, I put some serious time into tracking down documents. There was a list of documents I’d need, especially since my last name had changed.

In my state, a “birth certificate” was one option for proving citizenship. I happened to have that particular document. But I had to contact the state’s Office of Vital Statistics to get one of the other documents I needed.

It was surprisingly easy.

I used a service called VitalChek, which lets you request all types of government documents online.

To be fair, I did have the verification documentation necessary to request documents like that. VitalChek requires you to upload a driver’s license, government-issued id, or passport. Easy for us. For a scammer? NOT SO EASY.

But what if a scammer somehow managed to steal your driver’s license? (Say you, for example, lose your wallet). That scammer could request your birth certificate and hope VitalChek didn’t ask for additional documents.

The same goes if the scammer can fake your driver’s license just long enough to qualify for a copy of your birth certificate.

3. Scam Artists Fake It

Driver’s licenses aren’t the only documents fraudsters can create.

With enough information, someone could generate a fake birth certificate, making it passable enough to commit fraud.

How would a scam artist get the information necessary to make a birth certificate?

Easy. Some of the information is likely publicly displayed online. Check out your social media profiles. Do you hint at your age? Your actual birthday is likely easy to spot from all the posts your friends leave on your special day. From there, someone just has to accurately guesstimate the exact year you were born.

Scam artists can also get the information through a security breach. Your information could have been stolen through a data breach and sold on the Dark Web, where it’s pieced together to make a full birth certificate.

Maybe you unknowingly downloaded a keylogger virus, which now captures every keystroke you type. 

Whatever the case, once this information is in the wrong hands, it can be used in a variety of ways, INCLUDING creating an imitation birth certificate.

How Scammers Can Use Stolen Birth Certificates

When we’re born, a document called a U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth application form is completed. This information is transferred to an official birth certificate.

A birth certificate includes:

The child’s name
The child’s weight and height
The birthplace of the child
Any health conditions associated with the newborn
Parental name, address, and demographic information

Looking at all that, it’s easy to see how destructive a birth certificate could be in a scammer’s hands.

If listed on a birth certificate, a mother’s maiden name alone could be used to break into someone’s accounts.

1. Fake an Identity

In 2007, a 3-year-old named Madeline McCann disappeared from her room while on vacation in Portugal. She hasn’t been seen since.

Earlier this year, a 21-year-old Polish woman named Julia Wendell made the talk show rounds, claiming she was the lost child. Her family vehemently denied it, stating Julia had stolen the birth certificate that would prove she was, indeed, Julia Wendell. The supposed Madeline denied that and instead submitted to a DNA test.

Unfortunately, the DNA test proved Julia Wendell was Polish, not British, as Madeline McCann was. Wendell issued an apology.

DNA is pretty powerful in establishing heritage. However, in most cases, a birth certificate is sufficient to start getting the documents necessary to fake an identity. Soon, someone could be walking through the world as you.

It all starts with lining up the necessary government documents.

Man and Woman Sitting at Table

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

2. Obtain Government Documents

What’s the one document you need to prove you’re you?

A driver’s license?
A Social Security number? 
A birth certificate?

In my experience, it’s primarily the first of those three items. Sure, I might be asked for my Social Security number or birthdate, but that driver’s license is the one item I’ll need to prove I’m ME.

That’s why an identity thief with your birth certificate can easily swipe your identity. Sure, you’ll probably need information like a Social Security number, but the hard proof your DMV will want will be in the form of a birth certificate.

Speaking of Social Security numbers, a birth certificate is a key that unlocks that door. However, the Social Security Administration only accepts originals, not duplicates. So someone will need the document in hand.

As we’ve established above, though, someone could request an original copy of a birth certificate through VitalChek, provided that person could get past the verification stage. 

3. Commit Credit Fraud

Think back to the last time you applied for a loan. What information did you need?

No, you probably didn’t have to hand over a copy of your birth certificate, but did you show a driver’s license as proof? Did you provide a Social Security number?

As we noted above, those documents could be obtained using your birth certificate.

With a driver’s license and Social Security number, could someone apply for a loan in your name?

Maybe someone could even open a bank account, get credit cards, or land an apartment or rental house.

All of this could happen without you even knowing about it. You may be denied credit, or perhaps you’ll receive a bill in the mail for something you didn’t buy.

By then, it will be too late. Your identity will already have been compromised.

4. Access Your Accounts

When you look at the information printed on a birth certificate, it’s easy to see how a scammer could leverage it to access your accounts.

By using that document, a scammer will know some information about you. This information could be all it takes to break into your online accounts.

Your birth certificate, for instance, includes your name, which could be used to guess account login information. If your mother’s maiden name is on the page, it could also be used to answer a security verification question.

This becomes especially dangerous if the scammer has other information on you, such as your bank account number or the email address you use as a username.

5. Create Fake Online Personas

Social media has made it easy for scammers to track down friends and relatives of people.

That birth certificate can equip someone with the information necessary to trick people into believing they’re you.

Imagine some stranger creating a FAKE SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE and reaching out to your friends–past and present–to communicate. Would you trust your reputation in some scammer’s hands?

And what if the fraudster began asking for money, posing as you?

These are all possibilities if a scammer gains control of your birth certificate.

6. Sell the Information to Others

If someone steals your birth certificate, the chances are that person won’t use it at all. Instead, the document will be sold on the Dark Web.

Yes, people pay for that type of information.

Worse, your birth certificate could be combined with other information to commit synthetic identity theft. That’s a type of fraud that combines fake and real information to create an identity.

The person holding your birth certificate could be the one shopping for information. Combing the Dark Web, someone might be able to track down information like your credit card numbers, driver’s license number, and online usernames and passwords. Combined, that information could be used to do some lasting damage.

Your Birth Certificate Is Missing…Now What?

Is your birth certificate missing from where it’s supposed to be?

Or maybe you know for a fact that it’s been taken.

Either way, if you have reason to believe someone has your birth certificate, it’s important that you take immediate action.

Here are some things to do to keep yourself safe if your birth certificate has been compromised.

1. File a Police Report

If you simply aren’t sure where your birth certificate is, there’s likely not much the police can do.

If, on the other hand, you’re a victim of theft, you should absolutely file a police report. 

You might not even have to wait for a patrol car to show up at your home or place of business. Some precincts let you enter all the information online and even print a copy of the report without leaving the house.

2. Contact Vital Records

Stolen birth certificates should be reported to the vital records office of your birth state. 

Each state has its own procedure on how this is handled, but an alert will at least let the state records office know that your records might have been compromised.

If you prefer to keep a copy of your birth certificate on hand, you’ll need to request a new one. You can ask about this while you’re going through the reporting process or do it online. 

Many states now use VitalChek.

Woman in Gray Hoodie Standing Waiting in Line

Photo by Kate Trifo

3. Freeze Your Credit

Someone has your birth certificate, and now you can’t sleep at night. Is a scammer applying for credit in your name?

Freezing your credit will stop that in its tracks.

You can freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus to keep anyone from obtaining credit using your Social Security number.

This might not be necessary, but it’s a safeguard you can put in place. Besides, you can unfreeze it at any time, and the process only takes a few minutes.

4. Consider Identity Theft Protection

Freezing your credit isn’t the only way to bring some peace after a stolen birth certificate.

Identity theft protection is designed to offer peace of mind. Services like Aura and IdentityForce exist to cover some of the cost of recovering your identity if it’s stolen.

Best of all, these services can keep an eye on things. If your birth certificate is missing, but you’re not sure it will lead to identity theft, this type of protection is a great “just in case” option.

5. Report It to the FTC

If you’ve experienced identity theft as a result of birth certificate loss, the Federal Trade Commission has a tool that can help.

Go to IdentityTheft.gov and click on Get Started. The system will walk you through the steps to report the incident and even give you some helpful resources.

How to Prevent Birth Certificate Theft

Maybe your birth certificate was stolen, and you’re now holding the replacement.

Or maybe your birth certificate is where it should be, but you’re hoping to prevent future loss.

Here are some things you can do to make sure your birth certificate stays exactly where it belongs…with you!