Recently ITAC, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, held a day-long Child Identity Theft Forum. Much of what was presented was new or updated, and advances our understanding of the growing problem of child identity theft. In upcoming blogs I will report on various aspects of the Forum.
Several presenters looked at the clearly growing problem of what is called familial or inter-generational identity theft. It can be a parent using a son or daughter's identity and/or Social Security number to establish credit when their own credit is shot. It can be a sibling using a brother's or sister's identity. It can be a grown child using an elderly parent's identity, or it can be a more distant relative — an aunt or uncle or cousin.
It is believed, and the evidence mounts that it is true — that familial identity theft is the most under-reported category of the crime. That is because it happens within a family and is very often handled within the family. We hear from second-hand reporting that in many cases the victim simply brings accounts up to date and then closes the account without authorities ever becoming involved.
It seems that in most cases that are reported to authorities, and certainly the only time that charges are brought and the matter enters the legal system, is when there has been virtually a complete breakdown in the relationship between the victim and whatever family member has stolen the identity; or it is the situation where the parents are estranged, the family unit has already been broken, and the identity theft charge becomes part of the post-separation dynamic.
In January, for example, Florida prosecutors charged a woman with stealing her 7-year-old daughter's identity to open a credit card account. The woman faced felony charges of grand theft and fraudulent use of personal information after her estranged husband discovered a maxed-out, overdue credit card had been opened in their daughter's name.
One of the presenters at the Forum was Dr. Axton Betz, certainly among the most interesting researchers in the field of identity theft.
Dr. Betz herself was a victim of child identity theft. She found this out when she tried to rent an apartment and turn on the utilities when she was in college, and came face to face with a credit report in her name — with many open accounts and a very spotty repayment record.
In the course of cleaning up her record she became fascinated by the subject, ended up doing basic research for both her master's and doctorate in Family Studies. She is now on the faculty of Eastern Illinois University and continues researching, writing and speaking on child identity theft.
Dr. Betz conducts in-depth interviews with child identity theft victims. She relayed what she is learning to the Forum. Some interesting points stand out and reinforce what has been generally thought to be true.
For instance, a boy who had become a victim after his identity was stolen by his father told her he had never really had "a normal father-son" relationship with his estranged father.
She related that children whose identities have been stolen by other family members receive little support from their families in making things right. Dr. Betz told of a young woman whose identity had been stolen by a sibling and was then told by her mother, "It's your problem, you fix it."
She also told of a victim who reported her identity having been stolen by a family member who could not make police take the matter seriously, take a report questioning whether any crime had been committed, or follow up. This is important because a police report is required before the credit reporting agencies will begin their identity theft cleanup process.
There is more to be said on this topic and I’ll be sharing it with you soon, so stay tuned.