ATLANTA - Dozens of teens in Georgia’s foster care system may have had their identities stolen.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Erica Byfield asked state officials why it has taken Georgia’s Department of Family and Child Services nearly four years to implement laws that would help track identity fraud in foster youth, and correct the problem before they become adults.
A former Georgia foster youth, Aaron, said that law may have helped him avoid the credit nightmare he said he is living. Aaron told Byfield utilities, credit cards, even financing for a Chevy Suburban appeared on his credit report when he was in kindergarten.
“I've never had a car in my life,” Aaron told Byfield.
He spent 13 years in foster care shuffled between group homes and family; then years on the streets, homeless. Aaron said he has been flooded with credit problems since turning 21, when he realized someone stole his identity.
“I'm 25,” Aaron said. “I'm approaching the age where I want to get a house, get a car, and I’m tired of riding the bus man! But right now I have no choice, because I can’t get those things.”
Currently, there are about 10,000 kids in Georgia’s foster care system.
“They're susceptible to being taken advantage of,” said Dr. Nia Cantey, director of the Division of Family and Children Services Independent Living Program.
Federal leaders wanted tougher regulations, which is why in 2011 the president signed a law to protect foster youth from fraud. It requires credit checks to make sure there are not any inaccuracies. Originally it was for kids 16 and up, but new regulations includes children as young as 14. The federal government gave states time to comply. Our investigation found Georgia rolled out state wide credit checks for foster youth last month. The checks occur on the child’s birthday.
The Independent Living Program is charged with implementing the federal policy in Georgia.
“Why has it taken so long?” Byfield asked Cantey.
“It’s the process of implementation, also being able to access the partners that you would need to do it,” she said.
This year DFCS has run credit checks on 182 kids and found 32 inaccuracies.
“Any fraud on any level is a severe issue and we take it very seriously,” Cantey said.
Research from Emory University's Barton Child Law and Policy Center shows people who know the children normally commit the crime. Barton Center Director Melissa Carter told Byfield it is “friendly fraud.”
“We often see parents or caregivers or relatives or friends of children actually misappropriating their identity for other purposes,” Carter said.
Aaron, like many foster kids, moved often, living in 15 different group homes. With each move his Social Security number and other sensitive information moved with him.
“It's not protected like it should be,” Aaron said. “It’s handed off to different people without a second thought of who the information is being given to.”
For a brief period Aaron said he lived in Southwest Atlanta with his uncle. He now suspects his uncle who stole his identity.
“I was on the street and he was living it up at my expense,” Aaron said.
Once inaccuracies are found on foster youth’s credit reports, the state works to fix the problem before they leave the system.
When asked about prosecuting the alleged identity thieves, Cantey said bringing this crime to the attention of law enforcement is not DFCS’ priority
“So you don't want to go after the person who did this?” Byfield asked.
“I think our first goal is to just primarily address correcting it,” Cantey replied. “I think that’s something we can continue to explore as we see the number of inaccuracies.”
Aaron was outraged at DFCS’ stance on reporting possible identity theft.
“What is there to think about? There was a crime that was committed,” he said.
According to Carter, many children are apprehensive to file a police report against a loved one.
“Those laws are generally styled thinking about more third party fraud transactions where we don't have that relationship that may cloud my ability to prosecute you in order to correct my situation,” Carter said.
Too old to ask the state for help, Aaron is still waiting for his credit problems on his report to be resolved. He told Byfield in the meantime, he is concerned about the children who are currently in care.
“Some other young man or woman is going to have to deal with this,” Aaron said. “No one should have to deal with this sort of thing.”