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New effort in Md. to protect children from identity theft

In case you felt parenting wasn’t hard enough, officials say there’s something else to worry about: identity theft, which can destroy children’s credit scores before they’ve even learned to count.

But Maryland hospitals and elected officials say there’s a solution – a proactive “freeze” on a child’s credit report that prevents any new credit accounts from being opened.

“Kids are prime targets for identity theft,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh at a news conference at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center Tuesday, adding that children make more attractive targets for these thieves than adult millionaires.

“The reason is, they can take that identity and use it for years without anybody finding out that it’s been stolen,” Frosh said. Only when the children apply for credit on their own would the theft be noticed, he said.

The kIDsafe campaign, co-sponsored by the Maryland Hospital Association, Frosh’s office and others, encourages parents to request a credit freeze for their children by contacting the three credit-reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

Hospitals and pediatricians will make flyers and information cards available to parents in hospital waiting rooms and doctors’ offices across the state, said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the hospital association.

Officials discussed whether the information should be included in the often-extensive collection of forms, flyers and pamphlets that hospitals give to new parents following a birth, but they worried it would be too easily overlooked, Coyle said.

But by the time parents are taking the baby to the pediatrician, they may be more receptive to hearing about identity protection, Coyle said.

Both Frosh and Coyle said they have personal experience with identity theft – each has had a bogus tax return filed in his name. “If it can happen to the Attorney General, it can happen to anyone,” Frosh said.

The campaign builds on the efforts of Montgomery County Del. Craig Zucker, who was the lead sponsor of a bill adopted in 2012 that enabled parents to request the security freezes.

“There’s 1.4 million children in the state of Maryland that could all become victims,” Zucker said. The law also protects people with developmental disabilities and adults – such as senior citizens – who may become incapacitated, he said.

More than 140,000 minors nationwide fall victim to identity theft each year, and while it’s not clear how many of those occur in Maryland, the state’s population is about 2 percent of the population of the U.S., Frosh said. That suggests about 2 percent – or 2,800 – of those thefts could occur in the Free State each year, he said.

The kIDsafe program is also supported by the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and by MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Medical Society.

“Every single parent in the state of Maryland should do this,” Frosh said.