WYTHEVILLE, Va. – You might be taking steps to protect our identity, but have you considered that your kids' identities might also be at risk?
An expert who people around the nation rely on lives in our area.
Capt. Robert Chappell is the commander of the Virginia State Police's Wytheville division.
He's become an expert on child identity theft out of necessity.
"Children are 35 times more likely to be victimized than adults are because it's just one of those that's not discovered easily," Chappell said.
Chappell is also a published author and one of the few experts in the country on child identity theft.
"The crime has been around for probably around 10 years, but it's one of those that kind of flies under the radar. It's not well known, but yet it affects a lot of children," Chappell said.
He said that most often, thieves are after credit.
Whether that's a credit card, a loan or a utility bill, 1 million kids a year fall victim.
"Most of us assume our personal identifying information is not valuable until we become an adult, until we start earning money, but that's not true," Chappell said.
The younger the child, the better for thieves, because a person's credit is seen as good until proven otherwise, and generally, parents aren't checking a child's information until they're in high school.
"With no national database, they receive a first application of credit, they assume credit is good and they issue credit based on that," Chappell said.
Sometimes, parents or family members use a kid's information as their own to get by in tough times. Chappell said doing that typically doesn't end well and creates more problems.
"One of the last things that you would want to do is turn your parents in...and have them face going to jail. It's an emotional dilemma that is almost like twice victimization," said Chappell.
Across the board, the thieves are rarely caught, and most people don't give the problem attention because a simple police report can revert the charges.
"Parents aren't fully educated on how to look for the signs and symptoms of victimization in their children and it's just discovered too late in the process," Chappell said.
In many cases, it's about not the loss of cash, but rather the loss of security for good.
"I think if you would ask a victim of identity theft, there is the feeling of violation that is just as real as if someone has stolen their car. And it could be greater," Chappell said.
Follow these tips to keep your kids' information safe:
- Place a credit freeze on your child's information.
- Take advantage of the government's free annual credit check with the big three credit bureaus for you and your kids.
- Be wary of who gets your information and how they use it.
- Overall, be very vigilant and observant about money matters.
- Keep an eye on your kids' device use to make sure they aren't giving their information away unknowingly on apps. Also, be aware that your old information could be left on devices you sell or donate.
- Talk to your kids and educate them about the dangers of identity theft.