Child identity theft is a new crime sweeping America. A recent study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research and sponsored by the Identity Theft Assistance Center found that the crime now affects one in 40 households with minor children. A Carnegie Mellon CyLab study stated that "children were targeted 51 times more frequently than adults."
My 28-year law enforcement career prepared me to write the book "Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know." Here are five tips to help law enforcement officers investigating child identity theft:
Write in a journal. Ask the victim to start a journal. Families have uncovered many details of their child's victimization and made multiple phone calls, written many letters, and sent several e-mails trying to clear up the fact that their child does not owe money or that they were not the one who obtained credit. By starting a journal or log of actions and events, the victim can organize events that take place, and actions that occur.
Create a document file. Ask the complainant to create a file for organization of documents. The best type of filing system is an accordion-style folder or binder with plastic sheets where bills, receipts, letters, notices, or other documents can be maintained without fear of loss. This assists with preventing the loss of an investigative document the officer may need to successfully bring the case to a conclusion.
Obtain a credit report. Ask parents or guardians to obtain a credit report for their children from one of the three major credit agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. TransUnion now allows online submission requests, while Equifax and Experian require that printed forms or letters be mailed to them. Credit reports are critical to the investigation because they are a roadmap of criminal actions. Credit reports show credit accounts that were opened in the victim's name, the names of businesses, addresses, how much is owed, and company contact numbers.
Add a credit alert. Ask the parent or guardian to place a credit alert on the child's credit file. Alerts are free but are only good for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days, the parent or guardian can call and renew the same alert. The alert is renewable for as long as the parents or guardians need the protection. A credit alert prevents the issuance of further credit without notification of the parent. If the parent receives notice that a criminal is trying to obtain credit at a location, a quick call to the investigating officer can potentially result in the arrest of the thief.
Consider family members. Begin your investigation with the knowledge that about 25% of child identity theft is committed by parents, extended family and guardians who have access to the child's critical information such as name, date of birth, and Social Security number. If the thief is not a family member or guardian, then the investigator must uncover who had access to the child's information. You may need to inquire deeper: Has there been a theft at the child's school or a break-in at the child's doctor or dentist? Has someone approached the child asking him or her questions recently? Have the parents furnished a sports league or daycare with a copy of the child's birth certificate? These are a few good questions to ask during an interview with the parents or guardians.
Like most fraud cases, child identity theft consists of pieces of a puzzle that must be put back together to paint a picture of the thief. You'll get better results if the family is organized and tenacious about details and the officer conducts a thorough investigation.
Robert P. "Bob" Chappell, Jr. is a 28-year veteran of law enforcement and author of the book "Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know," published by Rowman and Littlefield.