Identity Theft

What Does it Mean to Have Your Identity Stolen?

If your identity is stolen, it can impact many parts of your life including:

  • Applying for loans for school, cars, or housing
  • Renting an apartment
  • Applying for a job
  • Opening a bank account

Children in foster care are often some of the most vulnerable people against identity theft. They have many people coming in and out of their lives, such as case managers, foster parents, and relatives, who all have access to their personal information, like age, full name, birth date, and social security number.

As a foster child or guardian, it is important to check your credit or your child’s credit before they turn 18. No one under 18 years old should have any credit report information attached to their name and any credit accrued before then is likely fraudulent.

Warning Signs

Some warning signs for a stolen identity are:

  • If you notice you are not receiving bills or other mail that you should.
  • If you receive a notice from the post office that your address has been changed.
  • Unusual charges in your bank accounts, phone bills, or other personal documents.
  • If you receive pre-approved credit offers in the mail or phone calls from telemarketers, this could be a sign that there was unauthorized activity under your name.
  • In extreme cases you may receive court summons for fraud or failure to pay bills.

If any of these things happen to you, you should immediately contact your case worker or other adults you trust as well as the institutions themselves, such as banks, phone carriers, post offices, etc.

Steps to Repair Your Credit and Identity

If you find any instances of credit on a minor’s account or any information on overdue bills or loans, you can contact the credit departments or banks directly. You can find a blank copy of a complaint letter that can be filled under your own needs here. If you are a ward of the state, you can also rely on your case manager to help you dispute claims or take legal action.

You should begin regularly checking your credit before aging out of the foster care system, so you are aware of the way your finances work.

Protect Yourself

There are ways to protect yourself or your foster children from identity theft.

If someone asks you for your social security number, you should ask why they need it, how it will be used, how they will protect it, and what will happen if you choose not to share the number, although there are some cases in which you must share it. 

While it is best to not share your social security or other sensitive personal information, there
are some situations in which you must share your social security number. Your employer and
financial institutions need your social security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. A
business may ask for your social security number so they can check your credit when you apply
for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service.

When not in those situations, keep these tips in mind to safeguard your personal information.

  • Do not carry all your personal information with you. Keep it in a safe place.
  • If you notice that your wallet, purse, bag, or phone is missing, contact your social worker as
    soon as possible so that the loss can be reported.
  • Shred or rip up mail and documents that include personal information before you throw them
    out. 
  • Place out-going mail that includes personal information in a mail slot, not in an accessible
    mailbox.
  • Be wary when giving out your personal and banking information, especially if the other person
    contacted you first. No one should ever ask for your PIN number or passwords.
  • Avoid using your debit card over the phone or online, especially if the other person contacted
    you first.
  • Protect your computer and mobile device. Use anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and
    a firewall.
  • Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from
    someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that
    captures your passwords or other information you type.
  • If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal
    information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
  • Never share your personal information or your social security number with a person or business you do not trust.

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