Fraud protection: Keeping children safe from identity theft
Identity theft isn’t just an issue for adults. Unfortunately, fraudsters often target children. ParentingNH reached out to a trio of experts to learn how to spot fraud, what can be done about it, and what rights parents have when it comes to protecting their — and their children’s — identities.
- Lisa VanBiene, Vice President Member Services, Triangle Credit Union
- Abbe Shaine, Shaine Law
- Timothy Chevalier, Esq., Chevalier Legal Services, PLLC
How are children affected by identity fraud?
VanBiene: “Over one million children are affected by identity theft every year, creating over $2 billion in expenditure nationally. It’s a growing issue with the availability of online information — and it’s increasing yearly.”
What are some of the warning signs that a child’s identity has been stolen?
Shaine: “It is particularly difficult to detect because sometimes the child does not try to use his or her identity until years after the fraud. The most common form of identity theft involving children is called ‘synthetic identity.’ This happens when the fraudster combines someone’s social security number with a fake name and identification.
“There are some signs you might see if your child’s identity has been stolen. For example, if your child receives a summons for jury duty, don’t dismiss it as a bureaucratic error. If your child receives a pre-approved offer for a credit card or an actual card (not as an authorized user) in the mail, that is also a red flag. If you apply for government benefits and your child is turned down because benefits are already being paid to that social security number, that too needs investigating. A fraud victim could also find that a bank account or other financial account for the child cannot be opened because of negative information on a credit report or because they are on the ChexSystems report, which lists people who have caused a problem with respect to a bank account.”
What are some of the steps I can take if I suspect fraud has occurred?
Shaine: “If you suspect fraud, consider contacting the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to have them implement a credit freeze. If you do not want to take that step, you can at least have them institute a fraud alert for your child’s Social Security number. You should also request a credit report. Contact both the state attorney general’s office and the police; request a copy of any report that they prepare. If there are any financial institutions listed on your child’s credit report, contact each one and request that your child’s account be closed immediately. Make a detailed list of every call you make and each step that you take.”
What are some of the common mistakes that lead to identity fraud?
Shaine: “Children’s personal identifying information is freely shared, often with organizations that are not really equipped to protect it from theft. Schools, camps, scout organizations, and youth athletic organizations, among others, may include a request for a social security number on a form to be completed. Make sure you ask why the organization is requesting the information, how it intends to use it, and how it will protect it. If you do not get satisfactory answers to these questions, work with the organization to see if they will agree that they don’t really need it.”
How can parents protect their children?
VanBiene: “First, you can freeze your child’s credit file for free at the three credit reporting agencies, restricting the ability to open credit using their Social Security number.”
Shaine: “Regular monitoring of whether your child’s identity has been stolen is the best way to ensure detection of someone does steal your child’s information. When you request that information from TransUnion, they will have you fill out an initial form, after which they will request certain information from you to ensure that you are legally entitled to this information. In the case of Equifax, you will need to write to their Minor Child Department. Include a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a copy of their Social Security card, and a copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued identification. Experian requires slightly more information. In addition to the information Equifax requests, Experian will want your child’s birthday and their address for the last two years.”
What should I do once I’ve discovered my identity/data has been compromised?
Chevalier: “You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com. You should collect any information available to you regarding the theft. Once you have this information, you should consult with an attorney about steps to take to protect your interest, such as properly disputing the bill with a credit card company. You should also consider a security freeze or credit monitoring to provide additional protection.
“For referrals to licensed and insured attorneys who practices in this or any area of law, contact the NH Lawyer Referral Service, a free public service of the NH Bar Association. Call (603) 229-0002 or visit www.nhbar.org.”
What legal rights do I have under the Fair Credit Billing Act if my financial information has been compromised?
Chevalier: “If you are a victim of credit card fraud, you may be protected by The Fair Credit Billing Act. The Act protects certain individuals who are liable on an open-ended credit account. The act protects individuals from several types of billing errors. These errors include situations where a credit card company extends credit to an individual who was not authorized to use a credit card.
“If you are the victim of identity theft that leads to a billing error, you must properly notify the creditor within a short period of time, or you will not trigger the creditor’s duties under the act. You must provide the creditor with written notice of the error within 60 days after the date on the first bill that contains the error. You should keep a copy of the notice. If the creditor fails to comply with the act, you will be better protected if you can prove that you took the proper steps to invoke the protection of the act, but that the creditor still failed to comply.
“The act does not require the creditor remove a charge just because you claim to be the victim of identity theft. The act does, however, require the creditor to perform a proper investigation and to comply with the act. If the creditor violates the act, you may be entitled to attorney fees, actual damages and statutory damages. If you are the victim of identity theft, you should act quickly to limit the damage. You should seek the assistance of an attorney to provide you with advice on your specific situation, including the steps to take to trigger the protection provided by the act. An attorney can help you determine whether you are protected by the act, can help you invoke the protections of the act, and can assist you with litigation against the creditor if they fail to comply with the act.”
Does New Hampshire have any laws protecting victims of identity theft?
Chevalier: “Yes, identity fraud is a felony in New Hampshire. Identity fraud includes posing as another person to obtain goods and services. It also includes obtaining personal identifying information about another person, without authorization, with the intent to pose as that person. If you are the victim of identity fraud, the court can order the person found guilty of this crime to make restitution for your loss.
“Victims of identity theft also have a right, under state law, to bring a lawsuit against an individual who violates RSA 359-I. The law enables victims to recover $5,000, or more, for each violation, along with attorney’s fees.
“State law also requires consumer credit reporting agencies to provide victims of identity theft with a copy of his or her credit report without charge. As of January 1, 2019, state law also enables consumers to place a security freeze on a credit report. The security freeze prohibits the consumer reporting agency from releasing information in the credit report without express authorization.
“While the law provides many protections, an identity theft victim must be proactive to take advantage of these protections. The law recognizes that some violations will require the assistance of an attorney. By including fee shifting provisions for some forms of identity theft, the law potentially moves more of the cost of identity theft away from the victim and to the person responsible for the crime. If you are the victim of identity theft, you should consult with an attorney for further advice.”
How is Triangle Credit Union helping to protect against childhood identity fraud?
VanBiene: “We’ve paired our checking account with identity protection services to create Better Checking. Better Checking with IDProtect includes all the regular services you’d expect of your checking with the added benefits of identity theft monitoring and resolution services for the account holder and their eligible family members, including their children.”
How does Better Checking with IDProtect differ from other identity protection services?
VanBiene: “It includes credit file monitoring at all three credit bureaus and sends alerts for any inquiries or changes to your credit, quarterly credit reports and credit scores, debit and credit card registration, as well as cell phone coverage. And this is all included for a monthly maintenance fee of only $4.99.
“Plus, Triangle’s ‘Making Money Personal’ podcast features guest speakers and in-depth discussion on protecting your child’s identity, plus so many more topics that affect everyday financial choices. I encourage you to visit our website, www.trianglecu.org, for all the details.”