VINTON–Lieutenant Robert Chappell of Bonsack is the author of the newly published “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs to Know.”
Child identity theft involves stealing a child’s personal information for financial gain or criminal intent. In most cases the thief uses the stolen information to apply for credit cards, but may also use the credit in vehicle and home purchases; in buying furniture, appliances, or electronics; in filing fraudulent tax returns; in paying for utility, phone, and cable hook-ups or bills; or in applying for public assistance.
Chappell believes that the key to putting a stop to the growing problem is education.
“Child identity theft is best thwarted by education of the parent,” said Chappell. “Parents don’t look at a child’s information as being of value, but it is. They need to protect it the same way as they do their own.”
Chappell has been a law enforcement officer for 28 years. He graduated from Radford University with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a Master’s degree in military strategy.
He was then hired by the Blacksburg Police Department where he was employed from 1985-1987. He was awarded the Valor in the Line of Duty award in 1986 for his actions with another officer in pulling a mother and her child from a house fire.
Chappell was subsequently hired by the Virginia State Police and currently is a Lieutenant with their Bureau of Field Operations.
Lieutenant Chappell is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Army Reserves, where he served for 25 years, including a tour of duty in Iraq in 2008.
When Chappell returned from Iraq, he was assigned to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations of the State Police, dealing mainly with fraud.
“As a fraud supervisor, I was receiving phone calls and ‘walk-ins’ daily regarding complaints about scams,” said Chappell. “Over time, these complaints migrated from scams into identity theft. When I noticed the shift away from general identity theft to child identity theft, I found information was limited.”
That’s when he decided to research and write his own book on the topic. It was published on December 21, 2012, and is the only book on the topic written by a law enforcement officer.
It has since been picked up by over 376 book chains, websites, and independent stores in 34 countries.
Chappell will be launching his “Child Identity Theft” book at the Vinton War Memorial on Saturday, February 16, with special activities planned for children and their parents. The entertainment by Ziggy’s Entertainment, LLC, will go on rain or shine, including a bouncy house, face painter, balloon artist and puppet shows from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Barnes and Noble will be on hand with copies of the book for purchase and signing.
The Roanoke Police Department will be conducting Child Safety Seat Inspections. The Vinton Masons will be preparing Child ID packages for children at the event. The process has gone high tech and involves laser fingerprinting, digital photography, and a video of the child. The parents receive an envelope with the child’s information that could be used instantly by law enforcement agencies if the child were to become lost or be reported missing.
The afternoon’s activities are sponsored jointly by Child ID Theft, LLC and the Vinton Police Department.
The national Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) recently sponsored a study that shows that child identity theft has reached a crisis level, with one in 40 households reporting a child whose personal information was compromised. Child identity theft is more difficult to detect and to resolve than adult identity fraud.
“Children are more vulnerable because they do not check their credit report annually,” said Chappell. “In fact, children usually do not figure out they have been victimized until they reach the age of eighteen and make application to a college, apply for a job, try to obtain their first credit card, or attempt to buy their first vehicle. Early detection is vital because victimization could go on for years and take years to untangle.”
Chappell’s most important advice to parents for preventing child identity theft is to check the child’s credit report annually with one of the three national credit report agencies. Each agency has different procedures in place for obtaining the free credit report of a minor child. Information is available at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Presently Maryland is the only state that has passed a law that allows parents to freeze their child’s credit during childhood upon request. Chappell sees that as a vital step for other states to take in preventing childhood identity theft.
Generally those involved in child identity theft are members of organized crime, opportunists, immigrants, or even family members. Twenty-seven percent of these crimes involve someone known to the child.
“Child identity theft sometimes involves families experiencing hard times economically,” said Chappell. “Family members justify stealing the child’s identity as a way of ‘taking care of the child’ as in getting the heat or lights turned back on. This tends to snowball into ‘getting cable TV’ benefits the child. However it starts, identity theft is illegal.”
Parents need to become aware of the many ways a child’s identity could be stolen. Each year during the opening of school, parents fill out pages of forms containing personal information on their children. Many organizations or websites also ask for personal data.
ITAC advises parents to ask three questions when a child’s personal information, especially a social security number, is requested by schools or anyone: “Why is it needed? Isn’t there another way to identify my child? How will my child’s information be protected?”
“Parents should caution children not to give out personal information,” said Chappell. “Just as children are taught not to talk to or go with strangers, to stay away from drugs, and to protect themselves against Internet predators, parents should also teach children to safeguard their own personal information.”
Some groups of children at high risk for identity theft are those from low income families, those in foster care, and military families, all of whose support systems and resources may be stretched to the limits and who are not able to provide the safety nets to protect a child’s personal information.
“These children often fall through the cracks,” said Chappell. “Children with passports are also of special interest for criminals. Passports are much sought after documents which are basically permission slips for international travel.”
Sometimes there are “red flags” during the child’s younger years that indicate possible identity theft, such as unsolicited mail or credit card offers in the child’s name.
Chappell includes extensive details in his book on those red flags, and the steps to take in dealing with identity theft if it occurs.
Child identity theft can be emotionally devastating with feelings of guilt, anger, victimization, and stress along with the turmoil of trying to untangle the financial mess.
Chappell’s book walks the family through the steps of coping with the crime.
“Every police officer loves a case that can be solved; it’s part of their nature; they love putting puzzles together,” said Chappell. “The more documentation the family has, the more easily the officer can solve the case. The police can obtain records that the family might not be able to access on their own—surveillance, phone records, shipping addresses, using police investigative methods.”
“The protection of children is the paramount issue,” said Chappell.