Today, the BDN ran a story I wrote about the prevalence of identity theft in Maine, and in particular, the fact that children are increasingly becoming victims of the crime. That’s because their credit histories are blank slates and they’re not likely to uncover the criminal activity until they get old enough to buy a car or apply for a job — things that might trigger a credit or background check.
It was a long story with a lot of data and information, but as is often the case with something as complicated as identity theft, there was still a lot of information in my notes that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Among the information that in hindsight I probably should have found room for was highlighted today in a news release by the Maine attorney general’s office. That was that, while there certainly are hacker-type identity thieves remotely involved in this type of activity, very often the culprits are relatives of the children being victimized.
Here’s what Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said in a statement on that front:
Far too often the person victimized by identity theft was exploited by a person they trusted. Parents who have ruined their own credit take out loans or apply for credit cards in the name of their children, and adult children do the same to elderly parents. We also know that this scenario is vastly under-reported because family members are so reluctant to complain to authorities about their own family.
The examples are indeed all around us. My colleague, Judy Harrison, reported just yesterday about a 30-year-old Brunswick woman who was sentenced to two weeks in jail for using her son’s social security number to get credit and hide her income while continuing to receive welfare benefits. In a separate case, a 33-year-old Lisbon man was similarly charged with his son’s social security number to make extra money without jeopardizing his subsidized housing and TANF benefits.
Kate Leifeld of the Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Advocate Service in Augusta told me the IRS sees more and more cases every year of stolen social security numbers being used by criminals to apply for jobs and then shelter their paychecks from taxes.
Mills in her release Wednesday also noted that her office’s consumer protection division can help people protect themselves from identity theft or connect them with free resources after they’ve been victimized.
The last thing someone should do if they have been the victim of identity theft is to pay for services that are otherwise free. The Consumer Protection Division of our office can help people put proper safeguards in place and if they had their private identifying or financial information stolen, we can help them file reports and get their credit back on track. We do not charge for these services.
State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, submitted a bill during the last legislative session that would have directed the attorney general’s office to create a Child Identity Protection Program, but the bill failed.
Under Russell’s proposal, Mills’ team could have used a similar program implemented in Utah as a template.
According to the Utah attorney general’s office, this is how that program works:
[Child Identity Protection] provides Utah parents/guardians with a secure process to enroll a child’s information with a national credit reporting company (TransUnion). Upon receipt of an enrolled child’s information via CIP, TransUnion will take certain proprietary fraud prevention steps, including but not limited to the entry of portions of that information into its High Risk Fraud database. Such information will remain in the High Risk Fraud database until the child’s 17th birthday, at which time it will be removed.