Child ID theft growingPublished 11:18pm Monday, January 7, 2013
Author offers tips to help protect kids’ credit
A new book penned by a man with ties to Suffolk warns parents about the risk factors for their children becoming victims of identity theft.
Children are 51 times more likely than adults to be victimized by identity theft, according to Robert P. Chappell Jr., who has relatives in Suffolk and who works for the Virginia State Police. Children make attractive targets for identity thieves, because they have no credit history — and therefore good credit, in the eyes of credit issuers — and the crime is likely to go undiscovered for many years.
Credit issuers have no way of verifying birth dates on credit applications, a loophole that needs to be closed, Chappell said.
“We need to educate parents on things to look for,” Chappell said.
He was inspired to write the book, “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parents Needs to Know,” when he returned to work from an Army Reserve deployment and noticed a significant change in the type of identity thefts compared to what had been occurring prior to his deployment, he said.
He began trying to research child identity theft and discovered a knowledge gap. Several bookstore chains and two public library systems turned up nothing on the topic. He tried an online search and came up with limited information focusing on child identity theft.
That’s when he set out to write his own book, which is being carried by 323 book chains across America and in 30 foreign countries.
“It definitely appears to be something that the book chains feel that readers would be interested in,” he said.
The book is written in question-and-answer format, so chapters are brief and do not require a lot of time investment.
“They can get a lot of information in a short period of time,” Chappell said.
The problem of child identity theft could be dire, he said. In a worst-case scenario, a child could die during a visit to the hospital if the child’s identity thief had been there before and used the child’s name with a different blood type, medication allergies and other medical information, he said.
In most cases, the outcome would be far less tragic, but it takes a financial and emotional toll, Chappell said. A young person trying to get his first credit card, bank account, job or college application could discover his credit has been wrecked for nearly two decades, Chappell said.
He warned parents to protect their children’s information at all costs, providing a few suggestions:
- Do not give out Social Security numbers and dates of birth unless absolutely necessary.
- Do not regularly keep your child’s Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
- Write down answers to questions at the doctor, dentist and pharmacy, rather than giving them aloud.
- Teach your child not to divulge personal information.
- Don’t keep personal information on laptops or cell phones.
- Invest in a shredder and use it for all information leaving the house.
“There are so many things that I cover in the book,” Chappell said.
Parents also should regularly check their child’s credit reports (as well as their own) at www.annualcreditreport.com. They should also watch for credit card offers in the child’s name, a general increase in mail coming to the house or break-ins at the child’s school, doctor, dentist, orthodontist, daycare or other provider.
But children sometimes are victimized by their own parents, Chappell said.
“In some cases, this victimization is parents who fall on hard economic times and instead of finding an alternative way to seek help, they turn to their children,” he said. “You believe in your mind that you can get your utilities cut back on if you turn them on in your child’s name.”
Chappell said it sounds easily justifiable in the beginning — “It’s cold outside; we needed heat” — but it can snowball into providing things that are unnecessary — “Now the child wants to watch TV. Before you know it, you’ve used it for other things (and not met the obligations). Now the child has damaged credit, and once the child becomes of age and discovers it, they feel victimized by the person who was supposed to protect them.”
To find out more about child identity theft, visit Chappell’s website at www.childidtheft.org.