Identity Theft of Children in Foster Care
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- Foster children are highly susceptible to identity theft. Foster care caseworkers can access children’s credit reports under the care of their agency.
- One way to better protect the personal data of children in foster care is to detect and remove inaccurate and/or inconsistent account information from their credit reports.
- Federal law requires all state child welfare agencies to provide children in foster care (ages 16 and older) an annual free copy of their credit report and assistance in interpreting and resolving any inaccuracies.
There are roughly 400,000 children in the United States foster care system and their personal data frequently changes hands on a regular basis, putting them at risk for identity theft. Many people do not establish credit reports until the age of 18, but when bad actors fraudulently use the identity of foster children to open lines of credit to take out loans or open credit cards, it may negatively impact their credit report.
To help address these challenges, federal law requires all state child welfare agencies (CWAs) to ensure that children in foster care who are 16 and older receive an annual free copy of their credit report. Each of the Nationwide Credit Reporting Agencies, including Equifax®, have processes in place to allow foster care caseworkers to request credit reports for the children under the care of their agency. In addition, Equifax will work with the child welfare agencies to ensure children in foster care who are 16 and older receive assistance in interpreting and resolving any inaccuracies in the report.
Foster Care Children’s Credit Reports
As a Nationwide Credit Reporting Agency, we have an obligation to assure consumer data and reports are as accurate as possible, following reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy. At Equifax, we take that obligation very seriously. We are constantly analyzing our policies to ensure that we can effectively detect and remove inaccurate or inconsistent account information.
Protecting a Foster Child’s Credit Report
There are two specific ways to protect a foster child’s credit:
- Request the credit reporting agency place an initial fraud alert lasting up to a year on the child’s file.
This will require creditors to verify identity before granting credit to someone. This extra precaution will prevent fraudsters from applying for credit in the child’s name.
- Request a credit/security freeze to stop a creditor from getting a child’s credit report.
A security freeze will restrict certain access to a child’s credit report, including blocking someone from opening a new account using the child’s identity. To learn about how to place a freeze on a child’s report, you can view our article on freezing a child’s credit report.
Addressing Suspected Identity Theft
If you suspect identity theft of a foster child, here are the steps to take:
- Work with the CWA* to immediately place a security freeze on the child’s credit;
- Contact the credit reporting agency and make sure you have the proper paperwork in hand to demonstrate that you have legal authority to act on the child’s behalf;
- Make sure the error has been removed by requesting confirmation from the credit bureau or pulling a new credit report for child;
- Continue to monitor the child’s credit by pulling an annual credit report.
*Placing and removing credit freezes are matters of state law and can be requested by CWAs on behalf of minor youth and by youth themselves at 18 or older.