OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Child Welfare Agencies Responding to Child Identity Theft
Howard Davidson, Catherine Heath, Steven Toporoff  -  2013/4/10
We know that many victims of child identity theft find out about the crime years down the road, when applying for student loans, trying to rent their first apartment, or otherwise preparing for adulthood. What can institutions in the community (universities/colleges, etc.) do to help these victims recover?
1.  Catherine Heath
 Thanks for your excellent question. The examples that you gave are the very reason that this law was passed. Did you know that it was a former foster youth talking about their experience with child identify theft that helped to pass this law? Discovering the identify theft before the youth exits the foster care system is the key to preventing the examples that you gave.
2.  Steven Toporoff
 Knowledge is key. Institutions can get out the word that young adult should check their credit reports and run their Social Security numbers to see if there are any errors or fraudulent items. If so, then there are resources from the FTC that will lead the teen or young adult through the process. You can get a copy of TAKING CHARGE, our basic identity theft guide, for free.
I have heard that the CRAs do not yet have uniform procedures for CWAs to check to see if there is a credit report associated with a minor's SSN. Each CRA has its own procedures. Is this still correct?
1.  Catherine Heath
 We believe that anyone can request a written copy of a credit report for a minor child in their custody. In general, this letter (on official letterhead) would state the information about the child (name, SS#, prior addresses) and contain documentation that the child is in the custody of the child welfare system (such as a court order or removal document). However, the three major CRAs are in the process of developing electronic systems to be able to check the credit reports of youth in “batches.” Each of these processes are a little different.
Because of the large number of children covered by the Innovation Act, CWAs need a way to check credit reports for large numbers of minors, such as by a batch query, but the CRAs are only set up to handle requests for one individual at a time. Is this correct? Are batch procedures being developed?
1.  Catherine Heath
 States have the option to develop a procedure that will best meet the needs of their youth in foster care based on their various systems of care. Some states, based on the number of youth, will want their caseworkers (or independent living specialists) to check the credit report of youth on their caseload and use it as a “teachable moment” with the youth. Other, larger states, may want to use an “electronic system.” From what we have heard from States, one CRA has developed a “batch report” system and one other CRA is in the process. The third CRA has another type of electronic option.
Because in cases of child ID theft, the perpetrator typically uses the child's SSN with a different name, DOB, and address (a "synthetic identity"), a manual search is needed to detect a file that is linked to the child by SSN only. Is that correct? If so, how are the CWAs handling the more time-consuming written request with documentation that is required for a manual search? Can the CRAs make that process easier?
1.  Steven Toporoff
 We appreciate questions such as these about the details of the Innovation Act and its application to the child welfare agencies. Much remains unsolved. The various agencies with an interest in this matter -- HHS, FTC, CFPB -- are working on these issues and hope to have definitive answers in the future.
The roles and responsibilities of child welfare caseworkers are becoming increasingly complex and require knowledge of a wide range of topics (substance abuse, mental illness, child development, community resources, court systems, data systems, etc). While identity theft is clearly a problem, are there opportunities for partnerships or innovative approaches that do not add to the ever-growing list of areas in which caseworkers must possess expertise?
1.  Catherine Heath
 In addition, many States have agencies that are responsible for consumer protection. Here is link to a report from the State of California: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/privacy/foster_youth_credit_records.pdf. They utilized their “Office of Privacy Protection” to conduct the pilot work to check the credit reports of youth in LA county. We urge child welfare agencies to partner a diverse group of community and state partners to conduct this work.
2.  Howard Davidson
 These checks should not have to be done by individual caseworkers. Each state or county agency's administrator should centrally compile a list of those youth in foster care requiring these checks, and the request to the CRA's should be centrally handled. IF there is adverse credit information, and it is not simply an error that can be quickly cleared up, then the caseworker may need to advise the child (with the help of the child's court-appointed attorney or GAL) of the actions that will be taken related to the identity theft. Also, another alternative states may use is to contract with a private contractor to do these checks.
How does this work? If a credit report/credit score is supposed to indicate to a potential credit issuer the credit-worthiness of an applicant, how can an application based on a synthetic identity (mix of the child's SSN with other PII) be deemed credit-worthy? Shouldn't there be no credit history or credit score associated with the synthetic identity, so the application would be rejected? Does the success of using synthetic identities to obtain new credit accounts, etc. indicate the credit report/credit scoring system and the is seriously flawed?
Are the perpetrators most often relatives of the child? What are the best ways to determine if a child has become a victim of identity theft (background check, etc.)?
1.  Joanna Crane
 I was told by a representative of TU that the CRAs could not release credit files that were associated to the child by SSN-only, because they could not with confidence judge who was the true owner of the SSN. So the manual checking procedure would not work for files matching on SSN-only. Have you or anyone else encountered that problem?
2.  Steven Toporoff
 Family members may very well be the perpetrators. But that is not always the case. Children can be victimized by just about anyone who gains access to their Social Security numbers and other personal information. Parents should check to see whether their child has a credit report. They should ask the credit reporting agencies to run just the child's Social Security number as well. These are the best ways to determine if a child is a victim of identity theft. Take a look at "Safeguarindg Your Child's Future," a free publication from the FTC.
Are there any statistics related to child identity theft, particularly related to crime victims in the foster care system?
1.  Steven Toporoff
 There are various studies on child identity theft, such as those by Debix (now AllClear ID), ID Analytics, and a recent one by Javelin. I am unaware, however, of any specific study focusing on the foster care system.
Are there (or will there be) training opportunities specific to social service agencies on this topic?
1.  Steven Toporoff
 Federal Trade Commission staff have participated in several webinars and other programs, discussing credit reports, credit monitoring, child identity theft, and resolving identity theft issues. We would be happy to participate in additional programs in the future.
2.  Howard Davidson
 There is nothing to stop a state from doing Title IV-E training, in collaboration with consumer credit and financial literacy experts, to educate caseworkers, private agency staff, attorneys, and others on these issues.
3.  Catherine Heath
 We have held several national webinars on the topic in general. However, because each State is able to implement the provision based on their system of care, many of the trainings are more useful at the State level. We anticipate hosting another national webinar in the next few months to help child welfare agencies determine appropriate procedures when working to resolve issues (fraud and errors) on a credit report. What type of training would be helpful to you and your agency?
Can credit agencies charge for reports?
1.  Heather
 Equifax has stated that they are not willing to give credit checks for children under the age of 18 without a contract, $550 set up fee and $50 per month fee.
2.  Steven Toporoff
 Consumers have the right to one free copy of their credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Those free reports are made available through annualcreditreport.com. If someone or entity -- including child welfare agencies -- seek credit reports outside the annualcreditreport system, then, in theory, the credit reporting agencies can charge a fee.
Is the Social Security Admin. willing to give these children a new SSN, especially since most, if not all, of the activity associated with their current SSN is fraudulent?
1.  Steven Toporoff
 The Soc. Security Administration is considering making it easier for children to get new SSNs. The agency is seeking comment on that very subject. Comments are due this Friday - May 12, 2013.
2.  Howard Davidson
 Based on what was learned from the California Office of Privacy Protection report, most of the credit entries for foster children are likely to be errors that can be quickly corrected, rather than criminal fraud committed.
What are the biggest obstacles in identifying child victims of identity theft when they are in foster care?
1.  Catherine Heath
 I think that the lack of knowledge, in general, about child identity theft is the biggest obstacles. We urge States to work with their local community to raise awareness of the issue and to partner with them. For example, I know our community has a big event at the beginning of the school year to raise awareness about child identity theft. Child welfare agencies should be a part of this work- youth in foster care are not the only children at risk. However, one of our greatest assets to raise awareness about issue is our youth in foster care. Youth in foster care can be powerful advocates and partners in this work. Just ask!
2.  Howard Davidson
 Another type of identity theft, not one likely to be picked up by Credit Reporting Agencies, is fraudulent use of a youth's bank account. Foster youth need to receive training on monitoring their bank statements so as to quickly "catch" any misuse of their bank accounts. This training should also cover a broad range of "financial security" issues.
3.  Steven Toporoff
 Seeking a credit report for foster youth, as well as running their SSN separately, is a good start to discovering identity theft. But many types of identity theft aren't necessarily revealed through a credit report. For example, tax, wage, and health identity theft -- which typically misuse a child's SSN -- aren't necessarily reported to credit reporting agencies. Those assisting foster youth should remember, therefore, that there are other types of identity theft beyond financial identity theft.
This topic isn't my speciality, but wanted to participate to learn more. Is the response to child identity theft by child welfare agencies a multi-disciplinary response?
1.  Catherine Heath
 Let me begin by saying that I understand multi-disciplinary approach to be the involvement of community partners in the youth’s social and emotional well-being. I think that in some cases, the credit report is simply an error. In other cases, the youth may be a victim of on-going abuse, which includes the use of their identity. I think the circumstances will determine the best response. We do believe that this a community issue and partnerships at the local and state level will enhance the response- this includes advocates, the courts, non-profits, the police, and others.
2.  Howard Davidson
 Yes, as it should involve caseworkers, agency administrative staff, attorneys, guardians ad litem, consumer finance experts, crime victim experts, etc.
In your response to the question about "obstacles", you mentioned a type of identity theft. What are the most common forms?
1.  Howard Davidson
 Although the California study (2011) was limited to looking at credit entries for youth in the Los Angeles foster care system, it noted the most common credit accounts either erroneously or fraudulently listed for foster youth were medical bills, telephone service bills, cable service bills, and other utility bills.
How can advocates can work with creditors to prevent child ID theft? It seems that it would be in the credit companies best interest to prevent this.
1.  John
 Thank you Howard! I will grab it off of the American Bar Association Web site.
2.  Howard Davidson
 In the February 2010 issue of our ABA Child Law Practice publication, we had an article entitled "Protecting and Defending a Young Person in Foster Care from Financial Identity Theft" which provides guidance for attorneys to give their child clients about protecting themselves from identity theft, and also on helping their child clients obtain "fraud alerts" and "credit freezes", filing an FTC ID Theft Complaint, doing police reports, and notifying creditors of their client's identity theft. I can send a pdf of this article upon request.
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