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Maryland hospitals aim to help protect kids from identity theft

Maryland hospitals and physicians will lead an effort to educate parents about how to protect their children from identity theft as part of a new campaign announced Tuesday.

Kids' identities are 35 times more likely to be stolen than adults', and many don't discover it until years later when they try to buy their first car or get their first apartment. By then a criminal could have racked up mounds of debt in the child's name, ruining their credit rating.

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Under the new "kidsafe" initiative, pamphlets and other information outlining how parents can in essence freeze their kids' credit, will be given out at doctors' offices and hospitals.

State legislation has been in place since 2012 that would allow parents to request their child's credit be frozen, which would prevent identity thieves from opening accounts in the children's names, but state officials are concerned that not enough parents know about it.

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Hospitals and doctors' offices were seen as the best fit for a campaign because they already work closely with families from the day a child is born. Nearly 70,000 children are born at the state's hospitals each year, according to the Maryland Hospital Association.

Doctors already educate families on other safety initiatives, including safety sleep positions and preventing sudden infant death syndrome.

"Where better to make parents aware of this threat and what they might be able to do about it … than in Maryland hospitals," said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

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When a child's identity is stolen, bad credit can impact whether a child can get credit cards, student loans, scholarships or job offers later in life. Unraveling bad credit can be a long process that involves contacting credit bureaus, filing police reports and writing creditors to dispute charges. Once credit is cleaned up, the person must continue to monitor for future fraud.

"They need to establish their own credit and not [take] the credit that has been established for them by some criminal," said Del. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the 2012 legislation and pushed for the campaign by hospitals and doctors.

One in 40 households with children under age 18 had at least one child whose personal information was compromised in an identity theft scam, according to the Identity Theft Assistance Center.

The Maryland attorney general's office fields calls from victims and said that many times it's family, neighbors or friends who stole a child's Social Security number and misused it.

"Every single parent in the state of Maryland should be doing this," Attorney General Brian Frosh said. "You can protect your kid and you will have peace of mind for 18 years — or at least until the first dance."

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amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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