WASHINGTON – Children in Maryland are better protected from identity theft after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill Wednesday giving parents a preventative way to protect their kids’ credit.
The Maryland Child Identity Lock bill allows parents and legal guardians to place a preemptive freeze on their child’s credit report starting in January 2013. The freeze prevents thieves from applying for credit in a child’s name. Previously, credit freezes were only available to people who have a credit history.
Maryland is the first state to respond to recent reports that children are fast becoming the favorite target of identity thieves. Identity theft among the five-year-old and younger age group increased by 105 percent since 2011, according to an AllClear ID report.
Russell Butler, the executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, is an expert on tracking and preventing ID theft. He says this bill is significant step for ensuring kids’ financial futures, “You really can’t prevent [child identity theft], right now. What this will do its put a freeze on it. Once there’s a freeze then it will not allow the identity to be used to create a credit record,” Butler says.
Kids are 35 times more likely to become victims of ID theft than adults because they “present a clean slate,” the report All Clear ID report says. Their names are not tied to any type of credit card, student loan or financing, which means that years can go by before the theft is detected.
“Children are very vulnerable because what will happen is, they wont check their credit ’til probably they’re applying to college,” Butler says. “So no one will know that someone has stolen their identity for decades.”
There are about 140,000 identity fraud cases against minors each year, according to a study released last year by ID Analytics. The study was based on a review of more than 172,000 children, whose identities were protected, from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011.
Criminals are able to steal a child’s identity by tying a different name and date of birth to the child’s Social Security number, according to AllClear ID. Experts recommend parents do not share their kids’ Social Security number unnecessarily. They also suggest shredding documents and getting anti-virus software updates to prevent id theft.
Butler says the best thing for parents to do for themselves and their children is to check their credit reports regularly. And he adds, no matter what age, once someone is a victim of identity theft, they’ll have a higher chance of being a victim again. “If you’re a victim of id theft, and you think everything is cleared up, that file might be at the bottom of the thief’s pile, and then in five years, ten years, 20 years, they’ll be using your identity again. You have to be very diligent to make sure that you don’t become revictimized, even if you’re a victim once.”
Under previous Maryland law, credit agencies had to place a security freeze on the credit of anyone who requested it. However, companies could refuse to lock the credit of those who do not have a pre-existing credit report. That was a problem for children. If they had a credit report, it meant they were already a victim of fraud.
Some states have created laws in recent years to protect identity theft of foster children, who can be especially susceptible as they are shuffled from home to home. But the Maryland bill is the first aimed at protecting all children. California, Colorado and Connecticut have passed laws mandating credit checks for foster children before they leave state custody.