Child abuse comes in many forms: Physical, emotional, verbal and sexual, but few talk about economic abuse. Economic abuse can be defined as ruining the victim’s credit rating or future ability to obtain credit and financial independence. One way it happens is through the misuse of a child’s Social Security number long before the child has any concept of credit histories or identity theft.
Last month in Wichita, Kan., Maria de Jesus Soto admitted that in August 2005, she sold her son’s birth certificate and Social Security card to a Kansas woman. The 54-year-old Brownsville, Texas, woman was indicted for the illegal sale of a Social Security card, aggravated identity theft and possession of unlawfully obtained documents. Court documents allege Soto sold her son’s identity documents to Veronica Rocio, who was then living in Arkansas City.
In June 2008, The Arizona Republic reported that Harold F. Bray was arrested for using his 8-year-old son’s Social Security number to lease an apartment and open an account. He faced one count of identity theft.
In Orem, Utah, police arrested a 26-year-old man in September for purchasing and using a child’s Social Security number to obtain employment. The child’s parents had learned that their child was a victim of identity fraud while seeking assistance from Utah Workforce Services, which manages a wide range of programs including child care assistance programs.
These three cases are merely a sampling of adults who have misused a child’s SSN.
The child will not realize the abuse until years later, when they land their first job, open a bank account or apply for a loan to purchase their first car, rent an apartment or obtain a college loan. Then, too late to stop the fraud, the very young adult discovers they owe hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Whether the fraud came about because a parent sold their child’s SSN or used the card to obtain services because of their own miserable credit record left them desperate for cash to care for their family, it is wrong.
On Yahoo Answers, a teen about to turn 18 found herself in exactly that situation. She asked what to do. Her mother had used her SSN for utility and phone bills. She wondered if the debt would disappear once she established herself as an adult and needed to use her SSN.
She was told succinctly, “The debt will not disappear.”
She will either have to pay all the bills herself (and any future bills her mother accrues for her in the same manner) or turn her mother in for identify theft and fraud.
On the Financial Crisis website, a victim of economic abuse reported that she owed $50,000 thanks to her mother’s stealing her SSN for personal use. The victim worked with the companies to clear her name and reported the identify theft to the authorities. Her mother reportedly went to jail.
Economic abuse of a minor may not hurt physically, but the betrayal of trust and loss of the ability to determine their own financial history will haunt the progeny of even the most well-meaning parent who first asked the child’s permission to use the SSN.
Unfortunately, few options exist for children who are subject of identity theft. One way or another, each will face an extra burden of paperwork and/or debt at a very early age.
Options for young adults in these situations include talking with a credit counselor, an attorney or the local authorities. They can report it, pay it, suck it up, or accuse someone they love of a crime.
Whichever route an individual chooses, the young victim suffers.
For those who know of a case of economic abuse, don’t stand by and watch it happen. Report it to the company and the authorities. Do what you can to protect the minor child from beginning their adulthood strapped with the debts of an improvident, unprincipled parent.