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Foster children gain protection from ID theft

By David Klepper
Associated Press / October 12, 2011

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PROVIDENCE - A new federal law intended to protect foster children from identity theft is just the first step to ensuring foster children enter adulthood with a clean slate, said the Rhode Island congressman behind the initiative.

US Representative Jim Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island, said he wants to see states perform credit checks on all foster children to ensure their Social Security numbers aren’t being exploited by identity thieves. He also wants to prohibit child welfare agencies from using Social Security numbers to identify foster children in their records.

A provision in a new federal law requires states to run credit checks on older foster children and work to resolve cases of identity theft so they can enter adulthood without the burden of someone else’s debt or the stain of bad credit. Langevin was a cosponsor of the legislation.

“They already face tremendous obstacles without the increased threat of having their identities stolen,’’ Langevin said yesterday at a meeting with child welfare advocates to highlight the new law. “There are a number of other things we have to do to fully protect our kids. The work is not done.’’

Studies show that foster children face greater risks of identity theft than adults or other children. They make good targets for identity theft because their personal data passes through many hands. Often foster children don’t realize their identity has been stolen until they leave state care and apply for credit, a job, or a loan.

States can easily reduce the risk of identity theft by ending the use of Social Security numbers as a way to identity foster children, Langevin said. Rhode Island prohibits the practice. Langevin said he wants to make the policy federal law.

He said he is also interested in expanding the new law to require credit checks for all foster children regardless of age.

Lisa Guillette, executive director of the Rhode Island Foster Parent Association, said the new law will significantly help foster children who otherwise might enter adulthood with sizeable debt that was racked up by someone else. She said ruined credit is something that can burden a young adult leaving foster care.

“It can be a barrier to even opening up a bank account,’’ she said.