Foster kids are at greater risk for identity theft than the general population because more people have access to their private information. Their families may be cash-strapped and view the young person's clean credit as an easy fix to a financial problem.
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Help protect yourself or a young person you know by following these tips.
Keep personal information private
- Friends don't need to know a child's Social Security number or the mother's maiden name.
- Don't disclose a youth's Social Security number unless absolutely necessary. If someone is asking for it, ask why they need it and what they'll do to keep it safe.
- Beware of people selling fake IDs. Besides the obvious risk of getting caught with a fake ID, the people involved can misuse the information given to create the ID.
Keep personal information safe
- Store important documents such as Social Security cards and birth certificates in a safe place, preferably locked up -- not on you or the child, in a wallet or backpack.
- Shred unneeded documents that have personal, financial or medical information.
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Be safe online
- Delete unsolicited emails that ask for personal information.
- Use strong passwords, updated virus software and firewalls for online accounts and computers.
- Monitor what personal information children are posting online. To ensure a website is secure, look for the lock icon in the address bar and a URL that begins with https//.
- Never store a password on a computer or allow a site to recognize the password every time.
Check and protect credit
- Order and review a credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or directly from the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If a child is under the age of 18, a parent or guardian may have to initiate a written request.
- Check the youth's name with date of birth, and then check the Social Security number separately. Identity thieves often use the Social Security number with a different name and birth date.
- Opt out of preapproved credit offers by going to optoutprescreen.com or call toll free 888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688).
- Monitor the mail and be suspicious of preapproved credit offers addressed to a child or teen.
After a theft
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission at IDtheft.gov. Or call 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338).
- Have the youth work with a trusted, financially stable adult to clear up credit problems, preferably before they turn 18. The child should shadow the adult to learn how to handle problems next time.
- Place a fraud alert or freeze on the child's credit reports to help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts using that name.
- Go directly to the businesses involved with a copy of the birth certificate proving that the victim was underage when the credit was taken out.
- File a police report.
- Teach the child what you've done wrong or right with your own credit, and advise them on the importance of building good credit.