Children in foster care vulnerable to identity theft

Easier to fix identity theft issues when children are still minors, but they often do not find out until they turn 18.

Identity theft is a serious crime. Child identity theft happens when someone uses a minor’s personal information to commit fraud. A minor’s identity may be stolen for the purposes of getting a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, car loans, or a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering, and undoing the damage resulting from the theft of a young person’s identity can be a challenge.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has reportedly been getting calls from young people who are in foster care regarding the problem of identity theft. Sarah Bainton Kahn with the CFPB reports that one young man described moving into his first apartment and all of the new responsibilities that came with this milestone. When he went to set up his utilities, he found out that someone else’s unpaid account appeared on his credit report.

Even though everyone is susceptible to identity theft, young people in foster care have an even greater challenge keeping their personal information secure. This is partially due to not having a permanent address and having to repeatedly share their personal information with various agencies and organizations.

The CFPB suggests that minors (and the adults that care about them) check their credit reports before they turn 18. The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act requires child welfare agencies to check credit reports for youth in foster care when they are 16, and every year after until they age out of care. It’s best to correct credit reporting errors before a young person turns 18 because his or her birthdate may make it easier to demonstrate that the credit report is incorrect. Incorrect credit reports can be more difficult to clean up later and can hinder a young person’s ability to live independently.

Making sure youth leave foster care with clean credit is extremely important. This begins with reviewing credit reports each year and disputing any errors. If you work with youth in foster care, here’s how you can help them start and maintain good credit.

Michigan State University Extension offers these tips to help protect young peoples’ information.

  • Keep all documents that show a child’s personal information safely locked up. What is personal information? At a minimum, it includes a child’s date of birth, Social Security number, and birth certificate. Do not carry your child’s Social Security card with you.
  • Share your child’s Social Security number only when you know and trust the other party. If someone asks for your child’s Social Security number, ask why they want it, how they’ll safeguard it, how long they’ll keep it, and how they’ll dispose of it. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, don’t share the number. Ask to use another identifier.
  • Never send personal or financial information – your child’s or your own, for that matter – through an unsecured wireless connection in a public place.
  • Limit the chances that your child’s information will be stolen or misused at school. Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and read the notices that schools are required to send explaining your rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). That law protects the privacy of student education records, and gives you the right to opt out of the release of directory information to third parties, including other families.

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