This week I had the opportunity to attend a fascinating forum in Washington, DC, to explore the myriad issues surrounding child identity theft, including foster care identity theft (a particularly cruel malady foisted upon children who already begin life behind the eight ball) and identity theft within families. The event was sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and was attended by victims, businesses and representatives from federal and state governments, law enforcement, educational institutions, consumer advocates and legal service providers. It's heartening that so many people care about this issue, but the clock is ticking, children's futures are being compromised every day, and finding a real solution to the problem is becoming more critical by the moment.
Though a great deal has been written on the subject, of late more than ever, there is still a lack of appreciation among the general public as to the depth and severity of the problem. There is hope, however, in the form of a relatively simple registry. First, let's consider the scope of this issue.
The Problem is Severe and Growing
Depending upon the study or report you read, from 140,000 to more than 400,000 young people per year become victims of a crime that may not necessarily impact their daily lives when it occurs, but can have devastating long-term financial and emotional repercussions.
Children Make an Easy Target
Child identity predators are drawn to the pristine credit profiles and dormant Social Security numbers of their victims, as well as their presumed invisibility in the credit system. They cannot legally apply for credit cards, "so a thief knows a child's information is not likely associated with poor credit or linked to fraud." As one of the conference presenters, and Credit.com partner, ID Analytics said in its presentation materials: "With a child's SSN, a fraudster can present a credit profile equivalent to that of an emerging or new consumer (immigrant, college graduate) who has not previously interacted with the credit environment."
No One Has Been Looking
Kids don't check their credit reports and parents heretofore have lacked the inclination, motivation, or easy access required to review their child's credit history. Oftentimes, the lack of inclination or motivation is due to the fact that mom or dad is the perpetrator. The crime generally goes undetected unless and until the child applies for a license, a credit card, a loan for college or, perhaps, requires a medical procedure. When they do, if their identity has been compromised—by someone having used their stolen SSN to set up credit accounts, obtain free medical care or throw police off of his trail, for example—bad things begin to happen almost instantly. In many instances the crime goes unreported because of the very human inclination not to "rat out" a parent or family member.
While the credit reporting agencies (in particular TransUnion) have begun to develop more user-friendly ways for parents to monitor their child's identity, we in the consumer advocacy community are still searching for ways to make the process of protecting it more proactive and effective.
Of all the public/private pilot projects and proposals on the table, a somewhat controversial idea developed by Jay and Linda Foley of the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center, a nationally recognized non-profit and leader in identity theft education, research, advocacy and resolution, presents the most potentially effective response. It is the 17-10 Registry.