Foster children, almost by definition, have faced more than their fair share of obstacles and difficulties. Whatever circumstances brought them into the foster care system, someone in a position of authority had to make a determination that those circumstances merited removing them from their homes and placing them somewhere else. It is therefore upsetting to learn that foster children in California and around the country are becoming the victims of identity theft in ever greater numbers, as reported recently in the California Bar Journal. Often because of the uncertain situation in which they live, foster children make an attractive target for unscrupulous identity thieves. California divorce attorneys who might have to deal with situations of abuse or neglect of children must understand the risks these children face.
Children usually land in foster care after a report of abuse or neglect leads to an investigation by state or local child protection agencies. Case workers may recommend removal of the child or children, who may then be placed with relatives or with families approved by the state as foster homes. In some instances, children may go to a facility such as a hospital or group home. While the removal may prove to truly be in the child's best interest, it often leaves the child emotionally, and as it turns out financially, vulnerable. Identity thieves may prey on them for their pristine credit scores.
An investigation led by the California Office of Privacy Protection in Los Angeles County looked at older children in the foster system to determine the extent of the problem and develop processes to repair damage and prevent future harm. State and county officials ran credit checks on 2,110 youths aged 16 to 17 in the foster system. Generally speaking, children should not have credit histories. They found that five percent of the group, 104 children, had credit problems. They identified 247 accounts opened in these children's names, with some resulting from simple errors and others from outright identity theft. They found an average account balance of $1,811, and in one case a child had a $217,000 home mortgage outstanding. The officials were able to clear all of the problem accounts.
Studies on identity theft have yielded widely varied results. A study by a security firm that deal with identity theft issues found possible identity fraud in 140,000 children out of a total of 172,000 enrolled in their program. Another firm found 10.2 percent of the children enrolled had suspicious outstanding credit balances.