At just 4 years old, Kevin Barnaby Jr. has already had two Capital One credit card accounts, $941 in debt, along with also a $2,911 federal tax lien put on his credit reports. nevertheless Kevin, known in his family as KJ, isn’t a financial delinquent — one of his family members stole his identity.
KJ’s estranged father used the child’s social security number to open credit cards, racking up the debts before KJ’s third birthday, according to a December lawsuit along with also a BuzzFeed News review of the child’s April along with also May 2016 credit reports. KJ’s mother, Trina Patterson, filed the suit in US District Court for the Southern District of fresh York; This specific alleges of which three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, along with also Equifax — violated fair credit reporting laws by distributing inaccurate credit information about KJ to creditors. Patterson also alleges the companies failed to ensure their credit reports’ accuracy along with also to investigate her disputes over the inaccurate information on KJ’s reports.
Patterson told BuzzFeed News the credit report showed the toddler’s father, Kevin Barnaby Sr., used the cards to buy his current wife an engagement ring. “This specific was hurtful,” she said. “I asked [him] to buy a car seat for [KJ] along with also [he] wouldn’t do This specific.”
Barnaby Sr., who was convicted of felony identity theft in July 2017, did not respond to a request for comment. Experian, Equifax, along with also TransUnion declined to comment to BuzzFeed News on the allegations inside the lawsuit. Experian along with also Equifax also have not responded to the complaint. TransUnion denied the allegations in a court filing on Jan. 26.
KJ’s experience will be not an uncommon one — This specific’s just of which child identity theft will be poorly documented along with also poorly policed. along with also while creditors along with also credit bureaus do try to help victims of identity theft clear their credit reports of errors after they’ve been defrauded, their systems are flawed in ways of which make children particularly vulnerable targets.
A 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab Security & Privacy Institute survey found of which 10% of people under 18 had at least one some other person using their social security number to open accounts, including lines of credit along with also utility accounts. of which’s far higher than the 0.2% rate for adults. along with also a 2008 study through Javelin Strategy & Research, a finance research group, found of which 3% of children were victims of identity theft.
Minors are attractive targets for identity theft. Because of their young age, they have clean credit reports along with also often don’t discover the theft until they reach adulthood.
“We don’t have Great statistics on the scope of child identity theft,” Eva Velasquez, president along with also CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told BuzzFeed News. “nevertheless This specific’s common enough of which we hear through people on a regular basis, either parents who are calling us because they somehow found out their children’s information has been used, or kids themselves call us when they are getting a student loan or car loan along with also find out they have credit history of which’s precluding them through moving forward with their lives.”
Minors are attractive targets for identity theft. Because of their young age, they have clean credit reports along with also often don’t discover the theft until they reach adulthood along with also apply for credit, John Krebs, identity theft program manager with the Federal Trade Commission, told BuzzFeed News. along with also their social security number along with also some other personal information will be easily available to family members — so easily available of which there are cases of parents secretly using their adult children’s information to open lines of credit.
Hailee, a 23-year-old community college student in Pennsylvania, told BuzzFeed News she will be working off $500 in debt on a credit card she didn’t know existed until recently. Her mother opened the account in her name in 2015 along with also used This specific to replace a broken air conditioner. Hailee said she didn’t discover the account until Wells Fargo began pestering her about late payments.
“I wasn’t producing of which much money,” said Hailee, who asked to be identified by her first name only. “If [my mom] had just asked me inside the first place, I would likely’ve seen if there was anything I could do to help out. Instead, I find out one day of which I’m $500 in debt.”
Hilary O’Byrne, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News This specific could not comment on Hailee’s account, nevertheless This specific has “extensive security measures to protect customers through fraudulent activity.” nevertheless This specific doesn’t discuss security procedures in detail, “as doing so could jeopardize their effectiveness.”
Hailee said she feels betrayed by her mother’s actions, nevertheless she’s not going to file charges. “I would likely never send my mom to jail or put her in a situation where she has to go to court,” she said. “This specific’s hard in these times to remember your parents love you along with also This specific sucks you’re being taken advantage of.”
This specific form of identity theft will be not always malicious, Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, told BuzzFeed News. “A lot of times parents are desperate,” she said. “The heat has been shut off, the light has been shut off. You can’t get service with your own information, so they use a child’s identity to get service.”
Krebs at the FTC said This specific kind of fraud “may be different through running up a bunch of credit card bills, nevertheless will be the impact the same? Yes.”
So how exactly did Capital One issue two credit cards using a toddler’s social security number, along with also why has This specific been such a battle to clear KJ’s credit history? At least part of the explanation lies in banks’ methods for verifying credit applicants’ identities, which leave loopholes of which fraudsters can exploit.
A 1974 federal privacy law bars banks along with also credit bureaus through accessing a federally maintained social security number database, so these institutions rely on their own methods to check credit applicants’ identities. If they wanted to be more vigilant, banks could verify customers’ identities by having them sign a form along with also submitting This specific to the Social Security Administration, according to a Government Accountability Office report. nevertheless the report noted the process can take up to a week, along with also “the industry carries a business interest in producing the process efficient along with also expeditious for the customer.”
Regardless of of which option, the social security number “will be sort of irrelevant,” Robert Gellman, a privacy along with also information policy consultant based in Washington, DC, told BuzzFeed News about KJ’s case. “What [the bank] needed more than a social security number will be the proper date of birth.”
Robert Smith, a privacy expert along with also publisher of Privacy Journal, told BuzzFeed News of which consumer credit advocates have long pushed for credit bureaus to consider multiple data points, besides a social security number, to verify a person’s identity. (Rhode Island will be one exception. There, credit bureaus must verify applicants’ identities using a second identifier in addition to a social security number. nevertheless the majority of states don’t require This specific.)
“This specific’s credit bureaus of which are the careless ones, to use social security numbers” to verify someone’s identity, said Smith. “Credit bureaus can do better.”
An FTC report found of which 26% of sampled consumers had at least one error on their credit reports.
TransUnion said This specific uses “sophisticated algorithms” to match consumer data based on a combination of available factors, including names, addresses, date of birth, along with also social security number. Equifax along with also Experian did not respond to a request for comment on whether they check applicant data besides a social security number when issuing credit reports.
nevertheless even with their sophisticated algorithms, credit bureaus’ system of relying on credit applications to collect social security numbers along with also build credit reports has flaws, as KJ’s case demonstrates.
“Credit thieves have figured This specific out — if you apply for credit inside the name of the innocent person, the innocent person’s name will come back, along with also [the bank] will open a credit account,” said Smith. “This specific seems so simple a problem, with not a hard solution, nevertheless credit bureaus just ignore This specific.”
Credit bureaus’ reporting systems are notoriously plagued by misinformation. A 2012 Federal Trade Commission report found of which 26% of sampled consumers had at least one error on their credit reports, which could be anything through an erroneous credit inquiry to a late payment. Another form of these inaccuracies will be called a “mixed file,” which happens when a credit bureau relies on insufficient criteria to match information through a creditor to a consumer’s file along with also mixes one person’s information with of which of another person who may share a similar name.
About 4% of credit files created by a certain unnamed credit reporting agency exhibited signs of a mixed file, according to a 2004 FTC report. “A figure of 4% may not seem like a lot, nevertheless I wouldn’t call of which rare,” said Wu. “Remember, [of which’s] 8 million people.”
Kevin Mallon, the attorney for KJ’s mother, told BuzzFeed News of which he suspects Barnaby Sr. used his own date of birth, combined with his son’s social security number, to open the accounts.
Capital One told BuzzFeed News of which the information inside the credit report matched the details on the credit card application. BuzzFeed News confirmed of which the date of birth on the credit card application was of which of an adult.
The bank said of which after determining fraud had been committed, This specific immediately closed KJ’s credit card accounts along with also contacted the credit reporting agencies to remove the accounts through the minor’s credit file. Capital One declined to provide details about how This specific prevents identity theft along with also child identity theft. nevertheless the bank told BuzzFeed News, “We apply various verification checks when issuing credit cards to protect consumers through fraud along with also identity theft. Protecting customer along with also account information will be a top priority at Capital One.”
“This specific’s obviously awful of which any parent would likely seek to steal their child’s identity, nevertheless part of the problem here will be of which This specific does not appear of which the credit reporting agencies have policies in place to prevent the issuance of credit reports on minor children,” Mallon said.
Children born after 2011, like KJ, are particularly vulnerable to fraud because they are issued a randomized social security number, which makes This specific difficult for financial institutions to confirm their identities, according to the GAO report. along with also after these children have been defrauded, This specific’s difficult for them to clear their credit because banks assume the identity thief, who was the first person to use the social security number, will be its true owner.
After Patterson alerted Equifax, Experian, along with also TransUnion in April along with also May 2016 of which her toddler-aged son’s information had been used to open credit lines, Experian along with also TransUnion placed fraud alerts on his reports. The updated reports they gave Patterson reflected KJ’s true age, nevertheless the fraudulent credit cards were still listed as of April 2016, according to Patterson’s lawsuit.
According to Mallon, the credit bureaus didn’t act when Patterson alerted them to fraud, along with also they only removed some of the credit inquiries along with also cards through KJ’s reports after Capital One asked them to clear the accounts. Even then, Mallon said Experian didn’t remove some incorrect details in KJ’s report until after Patterson filed the lawsuit, along with also Mallon said he hasn’t seen any evidence of which TransUnion ever fixed KJ’s report.
Patterson initially encountered more challenges with Equifax along with also ChexSystems, a consumer reporting company of which has been dismissed as a defendant inside the lawsuit. Equifax refused to send KJ’s report, explaining of which the “proof of your identity does not match the information we currently have on your credit file,” according to the lawsuit. Patterson alleges Equifax failed to further investigate her dispute on KJ’s behalf or to add a fraud alert to KJ’s file. along with also when Patterson first requested a copy of KJ’s credit file through ChexSystems, This specific said This specific couldn’t send his report until This specific saw a copy of KJ’s driver’s license. Eventually, This specific sent the full report.
If Experian, Equifax, along with also TransUnion have measures in place specifically to prevent child identity theft, This specific’s unclear what they are. The three bureaus declined to respond to questions about their credit approval process, what procedures they have to protect against This specific type of identity theft, along with also how they issued credit reports of which included a toddler’s social security number along with also an adult’s date of birth. TransUnion told BuzzFeed News parents can use its child identity theft resource page to place a freeze on their children’s credit reports “in all 50 states at no cost.” Meanwhile, Experian offers an identity protection service to families with children — for $19.99 a month.
“In general, families who are still on speaking terms don’t choose to prosecute each some other.”
Credit bureaus are working on implementing a National Consumer Assistance Plan by March 2018, which aims to make This specific easier to correct errors on credit reports. nevertheless for currently, children like KJ have limited options when This specific comes to clearing their identities. Kids like him can work with creditors along with also convince them of which a debt has been opened using stolen information along with also try to come to a resolution, or they can pay the debt along with also live with the consequences. Otherwise, a victim’s only recourse to shed fraudulent debt will be by involving the law.
Yechezkel Rodal, an attorney with Rodal Law in Dania Beach, Florida, told BuzzFeed News lawsuits involving a family member’s identity theft usually fizzle out once victims learn they must file a police report along with also prosecute their family member in court.
“This specific will be a very delicate situation,” Rodal said. “In general, families who are still on speaking terms don’t choose to prosecute each some other.”
along with also even in cases like KJ’s, where the victim along with also defrauding family member are estranged, clearing a child’s credit history will be no easy process. KJ’s father was convicted of identity theft, nevertheless This specific was an onerous process for Patterson to try to clear her son’s credit history. along with also she’s still embroiled in a lawsuit against the credit bureaus. Still, she’s thankful of which she caught these errors before KJ grows up.
“This specific’s hurtful,” said Patterson. “They should have better laws due to This specific. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have their child’s credit taken. We have way too much technology due to This specific to still be a situation.” ●
This specific story has been updated to include additional comment through Capital One.
Got a confidential tip? Submit This specific here.