BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Attorney General's Office warns that children's Social Security numbers can be used in identity theft schemes.
This comes after two arrests were made in a credit fraud scheme involving more than 300 cases of identity theft. Many of the victims were children.
"Most parents wouldn't suspect that their child's social security number would be used in that way," said Sam Pleasant, the director of the Public Protection Division of the Louisiana Attorney General's Office.
"It wouldn't occur, you know, just off the top of my head – let me go check my children's credit score or check their Social Security numbers," said Sarah Robertson, a Baton Rouge mom out with her kids feeding the ducks along LSU Lakes.
Earlier this week, Donald Batiste and Brenda Milson Taylor were arrested on charges of racketeering. The AG's office said Batiste ran a bogus credit repair service. He is accused of purchasing stolen Social Security numbers online and then selling them to clients wanting to improve their credit or get loans.
"This is an emerging trend. It's not only in Louisiana, but a nationwide problem," Pleasant said.
The AG's office said there are several red flags that could indicate that a child's social security number has been stolen, including:
- Getting notices from the IRS saying the child didn’t pay income taxes or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another tax return.
- Being turned down for government benefits because the benefits are being paid to another account using the child’s Social Security number.
- Receiving collection calls or bills for products or services that the parent did not order or receive.
"An infant or a child is not going to try to go out and purchase something with a line of credit," Pleasant said.
To check whether a child's information is at risk, the AG recommends three nationwide credit reporting companies:
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
Experian: (888) 397-3742
Transunion: (800) 680-7289
The AG's office recommends that people take these steps to protect a child's identity from misuse:
- Store all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information in a safe location.
- Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
- Use the alert and freeze options offered by credit reporting companies set up notifications of suspicious activity or stop unauthorized activity.
- Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, an adult in your household wants to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a security breach.
Ultimately, sometimes a Social Security number needs to be shared, for instance at a daycare or at the doctor's office.
In those cases, Pleasant said, "just make sure you know exactly why someone is asking for that number, and if it sounds kind of suspicious the reason they are using it, ask for an alternate number or hold off on giving that number."
The AG's office also has recommendations for people wanting to get help from a credit repair service, as many were when they contacted Batiste. Pleasant said legitimate organizations will not require you to provide money up front.
"A legitimate company will have a written contract that spells out in detail what services they will provide you, the total cost, and you will not have to pay anything until a substantial amount or the task is formed," Pleasant said.
She said they will not tell you to stop making payments to creditors or to stop contacting credit agencies. They will also not guarantee 100 percent satisfaction or immediate fixes to a credit score.
"It does take time to get your credit back in order in order to fix it legitimately, so any guarantee that we can fix it overnight or quickly is telltale sign that it is a scam," she said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true at all."
The Attorney General's office has a Consumer Protection Hotline to help: 1-800-351-4889.