Baiting Identity Thieves: Why Foster Kids Are More Susceptible to Stolen Identities

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Article first published as Baiting Identity Thieves: Why Foster Kids Are More Susceptible to Stolen Identities on Technorati.

“My life was in their hands,” explains Jaleesa Suell, referring to her experience in the foster care system.

Now a hard-working college student, she wants nothing more than a solid line of credit so she can do things like buy a car and rent an apartment.

Suell entered foster care when she was eight years old. While in foster care she was transferred to seven new placements, and each time, she enrolled in a new school. While the schools were “safe havens” to her, it was difficult finding her way, but she ultimately enrolled in college.

When Jaleesa turned 21 last year, she wanted to establish a line of credit and applied for a credit card.

However, she was denied. She didn’t know why, but after reviewing her credit report, she saw that someone had fraudulently opened a card in her name when she was a young child.

Now she’s struggling to get that off her credit report. She has gone back and forth with banks and the credit bureaus for more than six months.

“I’m still having trouble establishing a line of credit. I can’t get a car, and I fear after I graduate I won’t be able to get an apartment,” she says.

As Suell explains in the Identity Theft 911 audio interview below, those in charge of her home and school placements had access to all her personal information.

Foster Youth At Greatest Risk

“Foster youth are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because of the transient nature of their lives,” says Identity Theft 911 CEO Matt Cullina.

For those kids who transition to new homes and schools frequently – like Suell experienced throughout her childhood — their Social Security numbers and other personal information become tempting bait to identity thieves.

Some people steal info on foster youth to pay bills, open credit cards, and even provide fraudulent information about criminal matters. The foster youth usually does not see the marks on their credit report until many years later, usually when they have become emancipated from the system and apply for a job or try to rent an apartment.

Children’s Records a Blank Slate for Thieves

In testimony early this month, the Federal Trade Commission called children “especially vulnerable consumers,” pointing to about 140,000 fraudulent cases against kids each year in the United States.

This often includes loans, property, utility, and other accounts associated with the innocent children’s Social Security numbers.

Several panelists noted that children in foster care are at an increased risk as their sensitive health and personal information is circulated widely within the schools and social services networks.

According to the testimony, children’s Social Security numbers are uniquely valuable because they lack a credit history and can be paired with any name and birth date.

In effect, a child’s identity is a blank slate that can be used to obtain goods and services over a long time period.

For even more information, check out The Fleecing of Foster Children report, published by The Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law and First Star. It describes how parents, grandparents, family members, foster parents, social workers, group home personnel, and others have abused their access to financial information.

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.