Foster children, who face higher rates of identity theft than other children or adults, will get help from a new federal law aimed at resolving credit issues before the children enter adulthood.
The legislation addresses a common scenario: Foster children age out of the system, usually at age 18, and find that when they try to get a credit card, rent an apartment, get a job or a student loan, their credit has been ruined by someone using their Social Security number.
By the time they find out, they are often left to navigate the system alone, to clear their records without the safety net of family support.
A provision in the law, co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Langevin, (D-R.I.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.), requires child welfare officials to help resolve cases of identity theft so foster children can start building their lives with a clean slate.
Foster children are often a target for ID thieves. Robert Fellmeth, director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute, estimates the number affected at about 30 percent.
They are too young to take out loans or get a credit card, so they have clean Social Security numbers, which are very attractive to thieves. They also may be victimized by their original families. Some family members see these unused numbers as a way to start new credit to pay the bills. Also, because foster children often move from place to place, the number of adults who have access to their personal information is multiplied.
Children in general are at risk for ID theft. A study released earlier this year found that when Carnegie Mellon researchers scanned more than 40,000 children’s identity records, they found 10 percent of them tainted by Social Security numbers that were being used by at least one other person.
The problem is so prevalent that the Dept. of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission held an open forum this summer where representatives of government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, legal service providers and victim advocates discussed strategies for preventing and resolving child identity theft, with an emphasis on foster care and identity theft within families.
The new law calls for:
- Ensuring that youths transitioning out of care have basic documents and tools for achieving independence.
- Requiring that foster care agencies review the credit reports of foster children by age 16 and take action to clear them if there is an inaccuracy prior to the foster child leaving care.
- Ending the use of a child’s Social Security number as an identifier.
Langevin gathered Tuesday, Oct. 11 with foster children advocates in Providence, R.I., to celebrate passage of the legislation. He says he wants to eventually expand the law to require credit checks for all foster children.