RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — They’re called synthetic identities and they are one of the fastest-growing scams on the internet.

The scary part about them is many victims don’t realize they are being affected until years later.

When kids are young, they aren’t concerned with credit cards and social security numbers, but the bad guys are, and they steal kids’ identities to create fake, or synthetic credit profiles.

It’s very insidious because if somebody steals an 8-year-old’s identity, you’re not going to know it until they’re 18 or 19.

The victims don’t usually discover there’s another fake “someone” out there using their identity until they start applying for credit, school loans, car loans or anything that requires financial documentation.

“Their parents will spend a lot of time and effort to try to get this cleared up so that they can move into adulthood and start to have financial transactions for them legitimately,” identity fraud expert Christina Luttrell said, the CEO of GBG Americas (Acuant and IDology).

The troubles begin with a social security number: the bad guys steal your child’s number and build around that.

“You start to tie it in with other pieces of information,” Luttrell said. “Maybe an address that you have access to, a name, a date of birth, a phone number or an email address, things that you can all pull together to create a profile for a consumer.”

All of that personal data is obtained on the dark web or snatched from public sources such as social media.

CBS 17 wanted to know how as a parent, do you protect your child’s identity?

“You can take their social (security number) and freeze that information at the credit bureaus,” Luttrell said. “Just make sure that you are checking in on that Social Security number, making sure that no one else is using it.”

Identity theft experts said synthetic identity thefts are being carried out by well-organized criminal groups, and don’t just involve kids. Adults can also be victimized.

“You have to think about what these identities are being used for,” Luttrell said. “Are there state actors at play here that are doing really, really bad things with this information? You just don’t know.”

It’s estimated that synthetic identity theft will cost Americans $4.3 billion this year, and could reach $5 billion by 2024.