Those of us in the criminal justice community know technology can be a double-edged sword. Even as technological advances create new ways to tackle familiar problems in our communities, they also create new opportunities for crime – increasing our concern for privacy and data security. This is clearly the case with child identity theft – where, more frequently, criminals are using children’s identities to fraudulently take out loans, apply for employment, and open credit card accounts.
On July 12, 2011, our Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), hosted “Stolen Futures: A Forum on Child Identity Theft.” This forum was open to the public and was broadcast via webinar. Our goal was to advise the public on preventing child identity theft and resolving existing cases. At the forum, we were joined by legal service providers, victim advocates, law enforcement officials, and the public to discuss combating identity theft. Now more than ever, we know how important it is to detect identity theft as it happens and provide law enforcement with better tools and training to respond to these cases.
I am deeply concerned by the recent rise in identity theft targeting this vulnerable population. Child identity theft is an issue we’re only beginning to understand, but the more we learn, the more we see the tremendous damage these thieves can cause.
The numbers are grim: in 2009 alone, the FTC reported 19,000 incidents of identity theft involving juveniles. Studies tell us that the average victim of identity theft is still in elementary school when the theft begins. Some victims are reported as young as 5 months old. There are children in elementary or middle school with thousands of dollars in debt.
As Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary commented during the opening remarks of this week’s forum:
“In many cases, these victims don’t even know what ‘credit’ and ‘debt’ mean – and in some cases, they’re not even old enough to form the words.”
Children may never realize they have been victims of identity theft until they begin to apply for financial aid or student loans, only to discover that doors are closed to them because of bad credit and substantial debts. They face hundreds of hours clearing their financial records after the theft is discovered—and often the additional stress of reporting a family member to authorities.
Children are particularly vulnerable: they can’t sift through falsified debts or illegal lines of credit. We must be their advocates.
I am proud that our office, through this forum, is taking steps to address this issue and is bringing together those that can help. Since 2004, OJP has had a dedicated Identity Theft Working Group to better understand the problem of child identity theft: who is most vulnerable, what data are most often stolen, who is the most common perpetrator of this crime, and what are effective strategies to detect – and prevent – this crime. This week’s forum builds on the ongoing work of the Office of Justice Programs and our Office for Victims of Crime.
There is more to be done to protect our children from the new threat of identity theft. But this is not work we can do alone. We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with other government agencies, legal service providers, child-serving professionals, and victim advocates—all those with a role in these cases. Forums like this are the first step towards identifying this crime early and more effectively supporting its victims.
If you or your child’s information has been stolen or used by an identity thief, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.
For more information on the Stolen Futures forum and webcast, including the agenda: http://ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/stolenfutures/.