Foster youth are more vulnerable to digital crime in a number of ways. They face a different set of challenges compared to other children, which means their personal information may be more likely to be compromised online, and are at higher risk of falling victim to identity theft. Additionally, foster youth often move around a lot, which can make it difficult to keep track of their credit report. If their identity is stolen, it may be months or years before they realize it. And by then, the damage may be significant. Finally, many foster youth don’t have access to resources like credit monitoring or identity protection services. This can make it even harder for them to recover from identity theft or other digital crimes.
As a foster parent, many of you want to do everything you can to protect the children in your care. One way you can do that is to be aware of threats to their digital safety and understand how to help keep them safe online.
In honor of National Foster Care Month, intelligent safety company Aura and national non-profit organization Together We Rise, are collaborating to deliver foster youth, as well as those responsible for their care, with information on how to protect themselves from – and prevent – digital theft. Check out five things foster parents should know about protecting their kids’ digital safety.
- Help Foster Children Understand Credit and How It Works
Youth in the foster care system are at higher risk of identity theft, according to recent research. In addition to the lifestyle factors that put them at higher risk of their personal information being insecure. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 65% of foster youth have never accessed their credit report and 58% were never taught how to do so. Teaching youth about the importance of credit, what it’s used for, and how to check and protect it is crucial in addressing and preventing identity theft.
- Help Minors Check Credit Reports Before Aging Out of the Foster Care System
Ideally between ages 16-18 and before they age out of the foster care system, help foster youth check their credit reports for any potential fraud. No minor should have anything listed on their credit report because they do not have the legal capacity to sign a contract or apply for credit on their own.
Help them navigate through the AnnualCreditReport.com website to order a free credit report, which is available to minors as young as 13 years old. This Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a step-by-step guide to get started. Alternatively, as a legal guardian, you can help them access a credit report by mail by sending a letter asking for a free annual credit report to each of the three nationwide credit bureaus. Be sure to include:
- The child’s legal name
- The child’s address
- The child’s birth date
- A copy of the child’s birth certificate
- A copy of the child’s Social Security card
- Proof of your legal representation or guardianship, verification that the child is in foster care and that the agency is authorized to act on the minor’s behalf
- A copy of your driver’s license or other government-issued ID with your current address
- A copy of a current utility bill. Make sure the driver’s license and the utility bill have the same address.
Send your request to:
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348-5139
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
- Help Foster Youth Resolve Any Issues of Fraud On Their Credit Reports
Legal guardians are responsible for addressing any errors, evidence of fraud, or identity theft for minors. Keep a written record of your activity in the child’s case record. To resolve any issues – even issues that are seemingly harmless such as a misspelled name or incorrect birthdate – contact the three credit bureaus using a similar process as outlined above.
Ask them to remove all accounts, application inquiries, collection notices or any other errors found on the child’s credit report.
- Set Up Fraud Alerts
An initial fraud alert can be placed on the child’s credit report, which requires potential creditors to take extra steps to verify a person’s identity before extending credit. When they are made aware a child is involved, typically they will not offer credit in response to inquiries.
To set up a fraud alert, contact any of the three credit reporting agencies. That one will then contact and extend the fraud alert to the other two on your behalf. Consider including this ask in your letter requesting they address any errors, and follow up with a phone call:
- Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. Depending on the circumstances, it may be worth requesting an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years.
- And Finally, Foster Parents Should Talk to Kids Under Their Care About Digital Safety and What to do if They Encounter a Dangerous Situation Online
Youth aren’t always the most informed when it comes to trust and best practices online. According to a recent Google survey, 16–24 year olds are more likely to use multi-factor authentication and update apps regularly, but they don’t understand what phishing looks like and aren’t periodically changing account passwords.
Understanding the spectrum of cyberthreats is crucial to addressing vulnerability online. They should not talk to strangers, meet someone in person they met online, share personal information or use passwords that are easy to guess. By opening up this dialogue, not only are you supporting a dynamic where children feel comfortable speaking with you about online experiences, but it offers you the peace of mind that they are informed and empowered to practice safe online behavior.
For more information about how you can protect yourself from a variety of digital threats, check out Aura’s report, Protecting Consumers from Evolving Digital Threats.