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It’s not just adults that are at risk of identity theft. Identity thieves often target children because they have no credit history or debt. This blank slate makes children perfect pawns for fraudsters looking for new beginnings.
According to “Youth and Credit: Protecting the Credit of Youth in Foster Care,” a guide published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation aimed at helping foster parents and others teach young people about credit, foster children are at an increased risk of identity theft because of their circumstances. Foster children often move from home to home while in care, and they are frequently required to give out their personal information.
The number of adults that have access to a foster child’s personal information is also significant. Foster parents, caseworkers, group home providers, and volunteers all have access to Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.
In 2011, Congress passed legislation designed to help protect children in foster care from the damages of identity theft. According to the legislation, child welfare agencies are required to request annual credit reports for youth in foster care starting at age 16. They must continue to do so each year until the child leaves the child welfare system, and they must attempt to resolve any issues found in the child’s credit report.
Whether you’re a foster parent or know someone who is, there are ways you can help protect foster children from identity theft (and to teach children to protect themselves in the process). Speak to teenagers about the importance of protecting personal financial information, and teach them all of the rules about identity protection. If you are working with younger children, keep an eye on their credit until they can do it alone.
One of the first actions you can take to help protect against identity theft is to request a child’s credit report and to then check it for accuracy. If you find out that someone has opened credit in a child’s name, you can immediately report it to law enforcement agencies and the credit bureaus. If your child is a minor, you can also write a letter to the credit report agencies on their behalf that explains the situation, and you may want to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on the report as well.
According to the guide, there are special considerations to keep in mind when filing a police report for a youth in foster care. Often, someone the child knows, such as a parent or relative, has compromised the child’s Social Security number. If this is the case, the child may feel conflicted about filing the report. Be sure to fully understand the facts in your state, and clearly convey those to your child. In some states, filing a police report may not mean the fraudster will be prosecuted—it may instead serve as an important record of the identity theft.
Additional steps you can take to help protect a foster child from identity theft
Keep all documents that show a child’s personal information safely locked up. This information includes the child’s date of birth and Social Security number, as well as his or her birth certificate. Don’t carry your child’s Social Security card or passport with you, and advise him or her to avoid doing so whenever possible.
Share your child’s Social Security number only when you know and trust the other party, and ask your child to do the same. The guide suggests helping foster children find comfortable ways to say no to sharing their personal information, especially to relatives who may be struggling with debt or drug and alcohol abuse.
Before sharing personal information on the Internet, be sure you and your child are accessing a website with a secure connection. A secure site has a lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with “https.”
Use a computer with updated antivirus and firewall protection, and don’t send personal or financial information through an unsecured wireless connection in a public place. This will help you keep your child’s information out of the wrong hands.
Foster children may be at an increased risk of identity theft, but there are still ways to help protect against it. By arming your child with the knowledge to protect against identity theft, he or she can enter into adulthood without a compromised credit history.
Mechel Glass is the Director of Education for CredAbility. In this position, she is responsible for developing the curriculum and educational materials for online classes including webinars, podcasts, videos and listen-on-demand classes. She is responsible for managing the agency’s community outreach programs and staff, including financial education specialists in a 14-county area throughout metro Atlanta and north Georgia. She also manages the development and reporting of education partnerships online for the agency.
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